Earth’s distant relative in the solar system, Mars, once captured the imaginations of astronomers and storytellers who dreamed of intelligent life thriving on its rusty red surface. However, recent research led by the University of Arizona has uncovered unexpected geological problems in a vast, seemingly uncharted plain on Mars.
A step Published by the University, A team led by Jonah Voigt and Christopher Hamilton at UArizona’s Lunar and Planetary Observatory combined measurements from spacecraft images and ground-penetrating radar to reconstruct each lava flow on Elysium Planitia in three-dimensional detail. The extensive study revealed and documented more than 40 volcanic events, including one of the largest flows in the valley, the Athabasca Walls, which filled nearly 1,000 cubic miles of basalt.
„Elysium Planicia is the youngest volcanic landscape on the planet, and studying it helps us better understand Mars’ past and recent hydrologic and volcanic history,” the authors write in their paper. Although no volcanic activity has ever been observed on Mars, „Elysium Planitia was volcanically more active than previously thought and may still be volcanically alive today,” said Voigt, the study’s first author. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. Martian earthquakes recorded by NASA’s Inside lander between 2018 and 2022 prove nothing more than that beneath its surface, the Red Planet is dead.
„Our study provides the most comprehensive account of geologically recent volcanism on a planet other than Earth,” said LPL Associate Professor Hamilton. „This is the best estimate of young volcanic activity on Mars over the last 120 million years, which is similar to when dinosaurs roamed Earth at its peak.”
According to the authors, the findings have implications for research into whether Mars may have harbored life at some point in its history. Elysium Planitia experienced several large water floods, and there is evidence that exposed lava interacted with water or ice to dramatically shape the landscape. Across Elysium Planitia, Voigt and his co-authors found abundant evidence of interactions of great interest to astronomers, as steam explosions may have created hydrothermal environments conducive to microbial life.
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