A study recently published in the scientific journal icarus indicates that the red planet may have been habitable not long ago in terms of the universe: just 50,000 years. The conclusion comes after studying images of volcanic activity in the region called the Elysium Plain. The discovery draws attention because most volcanism on Mars occurred between 3 and 4 billion years ago.
Known eruptions on the red planet occurred in isolated locations and are indicated to have continued until three million years ago. Evidence of recent volcanic activity on Mars brings the possibility of life on the planet much earlier than previously thought, and indicates that Mars may still be volcanically active.
The research team used data from satellites that orbit Mars. David Horvath, a researcher at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the time of the study and lead author of the play, told the site Phys Study details such as the size of the mysterious dark deposit found: it covers an area slightly larger than Washington, DC – the capital of the United States.
“It has a high thermal inertia, includes pyroxene-rich material with a high calcium content, and is distributed symmetrically around a segment of the Cerberus Fossae fissure system in the Elysium Plain, an atypical location for the deposit of particles that may have been moved by the wind,” he said. “The feature is similar to dark spots on the moon and Mercury, which can also be explosive volcanic eruptions,” Horvath said.
The researcher believes this is the youngest volcanic deposit ever documented on Mars. “If we had to compress the geological history of Mars into a single day, it would have happened at the last second,” he said.
volcanic activity on mars
Most volcanism in the Elysium Plain region and other parts of Mars consists of lava flowing on the surface, although there are several examples of explosive volcanism on the planet. But this deposit appears to be different. “It appears to be a relatively new deposit of ash and rock, representing a different style and period of eruption than the previously identified pyroclastic features,” said Horvath.
According to the study, the eruption may have hurled ash ten kilometers into the Martian atmosphere, but it likely represents a last gasp: Elysium Plain hosts some of the youngest volcanisms on Mars, dating back to about 3 million years ago. “It is possible that these types of deposits were more common, but they were eroded or buried”, says the researcher.
The site of the most recent eruption is about 1,600 km from NASA’s InSight spacecraft, which has been studying tectonic activity on the planet since 2018. Two earthquakes — called martemotos — have been located in the region around Cerberus Fossae and recent work has suggested the possibility that this could occur due to the movement of magma at depth.
So Mars has active volcanoes?
“The young age of this deposit raises the possibility that there may still be volcanic activity on Mars and it is intriguing that the recent marsquakes detected by the InSight mission originate from the Cerberus Fossae,” Horvath said. He amended: “However, sustaining magma close to the surface so late in Mars history without any associated lava flows would be difficult and therefore a deeper magma source would likely be needed to create this eruption.”
life on mars
Such a volcanic deposit would increase the possibility of habitable conditions near the surface of Mars in recent history. “The interaction of the ascending magma and the icy substrate of this region may have provided favorable conditions for microbial life recently and increases the possibility of existing life in this region”, concluded Horvath.