At the same time NASA is actively exploring Mars’ Jezero Crater, a new study suggests volcanoes could still be active on the Red Planet. It’s been thought the last volcanic activity took place on Mars somewhere between three to four billion years ago, with some isolated tremors and eruptions happening as recently as three million years ago. Now, a new study published in Icarus says scientists have uncovered new evidence of volcanic activity that took place on the Fourth Rock some 50,000 years ago, suggesting the planet could still technically be volcanically active.
Researches at the Planetary Science Institute used data obtained from orbiters circling the planet. One of the pictures obtained from an orbiter shows a crack in the planet’s surface, some eight miles long. According to the study, this fissure — located in Mar’s Elysium Planitia region near the equator — shows evidence of a pyroclastic eruption, where magma explodes and erupts through the surface because of expanding gases trapped underneath.
“This may be the youngest volcanic deposit yet documented on Mars,” lead study author David Horvath said in a statement obtained by CNN. “If we were to compress Mars’ geologic history into a single day, this would have occurred in the very last second.”
He added, “This feature overlies the surrounding lava flows and appears to be a relatively fresh and thin deposit of ash and rock, representing a different style of eruption than previously identified pyroclastic features. This eruption could have spewed ash as high as 6 miles into Mars’ atmosphere. It is possible that these sorts of deposits were more common but have been eroded or buried.”
The study doesn’t provide an exact date on when the eruption in question could have taken place.
Separate from the volcano study is NASA’s Perseverance mission, one actively scrubbing the planet’s Jezero Crater in hopes of finding signs of microbial life.
“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally – when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” former acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk in a press release once NASA’s Perseverance successfully landed on the planet. “The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation’s spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet in the 2030s.”
Cover photo by Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images