Mars Also Has Land Mass Faults Like Earth
For decades the scientists were under the impression that plate tectonics didn't really exist in our solar system other than Earth. But the latest discovery by the UCLA scientists has proved the previous finding false. The team has found similar geological phenomenon involving movement of huge crustal plates beneath a planet's surface does exists on Mars.
"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 An Yin, a UCLA professor of Earth and space sciences and the sole author of the new research.
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This discovery was made by Yin during his analysis of satellite images which was produced by NASA spacecraft THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) including HIRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Out of 100 images received nearly a dozen portrayed the presence of plate tectonics. Yin has conducted geologic research in the Himalayas and Tibet, where two of Earth's seven major plates divide.
"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, a planetary geologist. "You don't see these features anywhere else on other planets in our solar system, other than Earth and Mars."
They discovered that the Mars contains the longest and deepest system of canyons in our solar system, known as Valles Marineris. It is nearly 2,500 miles long -- about nine times longer than Earth's Grand Canyon.
"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." California's San Andreas Fault, which is over the intersection of two plates, has moved about twice as much - but the Earth is about twice the size of Mars.
Yin, whose research is partly funded by the National Science Foundation, calls the two plates on Mars the Valles Marineris North and the Valles Marineris South.
"Earth has a very broken 'egg shell,' so its surface has many plates; Mars' is slightly broken and may be on the way to becoming very broken, except its pace is very slow due to its small size and, thus, less thermal energy to drive it," Yin said. "This may be the reason Mars has fewer plates than on Earth."
Yin is very confident in his findings but mysteries remain, he said, including how far beneath the surface the plates are located. "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 rate is much slower than on Earth."