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The Red Planet may be more geologically active than we thought – seismic data hints there is magma underground

Space

27 October 2022

A fracture in the Cerberus Fossae system on MarsSA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Mars may not be the geologically dead world we thought it was, as hints of magma have been discovered underground.
The Red Planet is thought to have been volcanically active in the past, but not for many millions of years. Now, by studying a cluster of more than 20 seismic events on Mars using data from NASA’s InSight lander mission, Simon Stähler at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and his colleagues have uncovered a likely magma deposit near Cerberus Fossae, a region of fissures created by fault lines.
InSight landed on Mars in 2018 with the objective of studying seismic waves that travel across the planet’s surface and from deep within its interior. By investigating the speed and frequency of these waves, we can better understand Mars’s geological structure.
“Now, we have enough data to see certain statistical patterns and we are able to locate quakes happening on Mars,” says Stähler.
He and his team have found that many of the marsquakes that the InSight mission has measured since 2018, both small and large, could be attributed to the Cerberus Fossae region.

The researchers suspected that magma was likely to be present under the region’s surface when they analysed the spectral characteristics of the waves. The low frequencies they saw are usually associated with volcanic settings.
“There must be some sort of hot body or magma chamber – so active volcanism – in this specific area of Mars,” says team member Anna Mittelholz at Harvard University.
The researchers corroborated the finding with satellite images that show dark deposits of dust surrounding the region, suggesting recent volcanic activity in the past 50,000 years.
Nick Teanby at the University of Bristol, UK, says that many people mistakenly think of planets as bodies that remain unchanging over time. “I think the exciting thing is that there are these new features on the surface [of Mars] and they could still be active – Mars is still doing things.”
Journal reference: Nature Astronomy, DOI: 10.1038/s41550-022-01803-y
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