Magma still causes earthquakes on the Red Planet

Most of the seismic activity detected on Mars by the InSight mission shows that the red planet is “not dead,” with magma motions similar to those on Earth or Venus.

Images of the desolate surface of Mars obtained by the probe that landed there are misleading.

Because even if “the planet’s main volcanic activity dates back 3.5 billion years, it is not dead,” comments Clement Perrin, a physicist in the Laboratory of Planetary and Earth Sciences at the University of Nantes.

Mars is largely alive, according to the periodic seismicity seismicity recorded since February 2019 by the InSight mission. The seismometer, a high-resolution instrument developed by the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), is located more than 1,200 kilometers from Cerberus Fossae (Cerberus Fossae).

The latter is one of the “youngest regions on Mars, aged about 10 million years,” explains Mr Perrin, “with open fractures associated with volcanic activities,” explains Mr Perrin, who co-tagged the Nature study. Written by Simon Stahler, from the Polytechnic School of Zurich.

These craters, “true canyons, several hundred kilometers long, up to one kilometer wide and one kilometer deep,” are of interest to researchers in more ways than one. A recent geological study, with the help of images taken by a probe orbiting Mars, showed that the remains of volcanic activity date back 50,000 to 200,000 years. In other words, there is something “so small, what you can get from dormant volcanoes in France,” says Mr. Perrin.

The InSight mission brings new insight into this data and, through its seismic study, confirms that the planet is largely alive, even if we haven’t seen any active volcanoes.
“Before we left for Mars with InSight, we told ourselves it was a bit towards the end of its life, with a very active core,” the physicist says. The researchers expected to find a star that was shaken by “small earthquakes coming from everywhere,” indicating that it is slowly shrinking as it cools. As does the Moon or Mercury today.

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But the InSight seismometer recorded something else, “mostly a source showing inner planetary activity.” The instrument detected earthquakes in the Fosses de Serbere region that scientists attribute to the circulation of magma and molten rock in the Martian crust at depths between 15 and 50 kilometers.

“Although we still have a lot to learn, the evidence for possible magma on Mars is intriguing,” according to Anna Mittelholz, a postdoctoral researcher at the Polytechnic de Lausanne, quoted by the university.

For his part, Professor Stiller wonders if “what we’re seeing is the last remnant of activity from a former volcanic zone or if magma is moving east and a new eruption zone.”

To get the answer, you’ll quickly need a replacement for the InSight mission, whose seismometer should stop working in the coming months. Solar panels, clogged with dust, will not provide enough electricity to operate.

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