We were wrong, new evidence shows there are active volcanoes on Mars!

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Mars
A recent study shows that Mars may still be volcanically active today.
Robert Duarte Robert Duarte Weathered Brazil 7 minutes

When we think of traveling to other planets, the first planet that comes to mind is Mars. The Red Planet is always the focus of media attention and the protagonist of science fiction films.

SpaceX often discusses a possible trip to Mars at the end of this decade. So Mars is in the habitable zone together with Earth the existence of liquid water would be possible. This is one of the main reasons why astronomers have always wondered Mars as a possible next stop for humans. The planet is well studied with several probes sitting on the Martian soil and collecting data.

One of the interesting features of the planets is the study of volcanic activity. The Earth itself still has volcanic activity today. Mars was long believed to be volcanically inactive and to have had volcanic activity in the past. A new study suggests that Mars still has the active volcanoes that define the planet’s geology today.

Characteristics of Mars

Mars is the fourth planet of the Solar System and close to Earth. It is one of the planets visible at night as a reddish dot. The red color is due to the presence of iron oxide on its surface. The planet’s atmosphere is quite thin and the presence of life is currently unlikely.

Some studies even point to the possibility that rivers of liquid water may have existed at one point. Mars probes often collect and send back data to answer some of these questions.

The largest volcano in the solar system

Mars is home to the largest known volcano in the solar system, which is called Mount Olympus. Mount Olympus is approximately three times the size of Mount Everest and is more than 20 kilometers high. It is also extremely wide, exceeding 600 kilometers; that is, it is impossible to see the base from the top because it is beyond the horizon.

Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus is the largest volcano in the solar system. It is an inactive volcano located on the planet Mars. Credit: ESA

The volcano reached this size thanks to there have been several eruptions in the past. It is one of the signs that Mars has had an active past in this sense. Currently, Mount Olympus is considered an inactive volcano, but it is important for the study of the geological history of the planet.

How to study the surface of Mars?

The study of the surface of Mars dates back more than 100 years. However, the technology was limited in the past and the markings on its surface were difficult to explain. The quality of the images was so poor that in the 1970s it was believed that one of the mountains on Mars was a human face. Something that was denied in the following decades.

Viking 1 on the surface of Mars
A photograph taken by Viking 1 showed a face on the surface of Mars. It was later confirmed that it is pareidolia, where we see patterns of faces in places. Credit: NASA/JPL

Today, there are several probes on the surface of Mars, such as the famous Curiosity and Perseverance. These and other missions use high-resolution cameras, probes, radar and instruments map the surface of Mars. They can also study the interior of the planet.

Martian earthquakes

Although there is no evidence of plate tectonics, Mars still has earthquakes caused by activity inside. Some are caused by phenomena that occur internally, such as core contraction or cooling due to some internal process. In 2022, it has NASA’s InSight module largest earthquake ever recorded on Mars detected.

Although weak compared to Earth parameters, at magnitude 4.7 it is a very high value for Martian parameters and history. This could be proof that Mars is not as inactive as it seems.

Active volcanoes on Mars?

A recent study examined the evidence for this today there would be volcanic activity on Mars. Scientists used data from the interior of the planet obtained by radar and combined it with images of the surface. By modeling what they achieved, they realized it existed a considerable amount of lava. They were able to identify about 40 sites associated with volcanic activity, although they did not observe any directly. According to the team, this could be evidence that Mars is more active than it seems. If confirmed, our idea that Mars is a dormant planet has been wrong for decades.

What are the consequences?

If confirmed, it could shed light on the still-unanswered question of whether Mars was ever in the past, capable of hosting life. Volcanic activity is an important factor in studying the habitability of a planet. It would also be useful to make a comparison with the geological history of Venus, which is still very active geologically today. Another characteristic would be the existence of internal hot springs that would reach the surface through geysers. Some argue that these features could be important for the existence of primitive life below the surface.



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