Scientists have found anomalies on Mars that suggest something is pushing the Martian mantle upward.
Mars continues to surprise scientists. The red planet, which was previously considered a dead and barren world, is showing us how wrong we are. Evidence of an active mantle plume pushing up on the surface of Mars has challenged theories of its geodynamic evolution. A research paper by scientists from the University of Arizona shows that Mars is still a geologically active world far from being dead. The finding, published in Nature Astronomy, suggests that the red planet’s deceptively calm surface may hide a more tumultuous interior than previously thought.
Earthquakes, faults, and volcanic eruptions are caused by the push of mantle plumes through the planet’s middle layer, the mantle. They originate deep inside the planet and rise to the surface. For example, during the slow drifting of the Pacific plate over a mantle plume, the chain of islands of Hawaii formed.
Why this matters
Throughout the years, scientists have gathered strong enough evidence to propose active mantle plumes on Earth and on Venus. However, these plumes were not supposed to exist on a planet that is small and as cold as Mars. Scientists believed Mars to be a dead, barren world. This was not the case billions of years ago. In fact, Mars was active some 3 to 4 billion years ago. The prevailing theory was that the red planet is dead today. But new evidence suggests we are wrong.
A cooling world?
The tallest volcanoes in the solar system were created by a great deal of volcanic activity early in the red planet’s history. As a result of this eruption, volcanic deposits covered much of the northern hemisphere. In recent history, there has been very little activity due to the planet’s cooling. The youngest volcanic eruption on Mars can be traced back to Elysium Planitia around 53,000 years ago. This is important.
Cerberus Fossae are a series of young fissures spanning more than 800 miles across the Martian surface. NASA’s InSight lander found that nearly all quakes on Mars originated from there. Scientists had previously known about it, but there was no clear reason as to why. Now, scientists have investigated further. Since Mars does not have plate tectonics, they looked at possible causes. One explanation was a mantle plume.
Upon studying Elysium Planitia, scientists discovered evidence for a sequence of events that takes place on Earth. Warm material pushes against the surface. This lifts the crust, causing it to stretch. The same thing was found on the red planet. Models of their research point towards a giant plume, 2,500 miles wide, sitting beneath the surface.