|Scientists discover plate tectonics on Mars, say Mars quakes are likely||
“Mars is at a primitive stage of plate tectonics. It gives us a glimpse of how the early Earth may have looked and may help us understand how plate tectonics began on Earth,” said researcher An Yin, the lead scientists examining Mars tectonics.
Yin, who made the discovery during his analysis of satellite images from a NASA spacecraft known as THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) and from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), said he analyzed about 100 satellite images, and approximately a dozen were revealing of plate tectonics. He noted that similarities to major fault lines on Earth struck him as odd on Mars, which scientists have previously written off as not active.
“When I studied the satellite images from Mars, many of the features looked very much like fault systems I have seen in the Himalayas and Tibet, and in California as well, including the geomorphology,” said Yin.
Yin noticed that saw a smooth, flat side of a canyon wall, which can be generated only by a fault, and a steep cliff, comparable to cliffs in California’s Death Valley, which also are generated by a fault.
“You don’t see these features anywhere else on other planets in our solar system, other than Earth and Mars,” said Yin.
The UCLA scientists said he did not expect plate tectonics to be behind the formation of the off landscapes, although with the benefit of hindsight he said he is not surprised.
“In the beginning, I did not expect plate tectonics, but the more I studied it, the more I realized Mars is so different from what other scientists anticipated,” Yin said. “I saw that the idea that it is just a big crack that opened up is incorrect.
It is really a plate boundary with horizontal motion. That is kind of shocking, but the evidence is quite clear. The shell is broken and is moving horizontally over a long distance. It is very similar to the Earth’s Dead Sea fault system, which has also opened up and is moving horizontally.”
Mars has landslides, and Yin said a fault is shifting the landslides, moving them from their source.
Among the most stunning revelations is the fact that Mars may have occasional quakes, which Yin termed “Mars quakes.”
“I think the fault is probably still active, but not every day. It wakes up every once in a while over a very long duration — perhaps every million years or more,” said Yin. ”I don’t quite understand why the plates are moving with such a large magnitude or what the rate of movement is — maybe Mars has a different form of plate tectonics.”
The finding comes as NASA is preparing its Curiosity rover to begin exploring Mars. The rover, the most advanced vehicle to roam the Red Planet, is expected to provide insight into the history of Mars and its geology — including whether the planet every held water.
(Source: The Petri Dish)
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