by Stuart Wolpert UCLA News
Monday, August 20, 2012
UCLA Scientist Discovers Plate Tectonics on Mars?
I do not think we can call it plate tectonics at all. The crust is surely stressed for any number of natural reasons and this is ultimately expressed as fault movement. In this case the movement is even aged back to the early history of Mars. Otherwise it is nice to discover fault movement at all. It may even reveal some geology.
Plate tectonics generates differentiation of rock types which appears missing on Mars.
What makes images of apparent volcanoes on Mars odd is their apparent uniformity and symmetry. This can only be possible if they are all cinder cones. This implies a long history of out gassing on Mars that most likely brought a lot of water and CO2 to the surface.
I also note in the image I just dug up of Olympus Mons that a string of three additional volcanoes lie along side that appear well spaced. This is too good to be true and will beg a proper explanation. There has to be at least another fault controlling their location. Better still, show me were on Earth this is replicated.
UCLA scientist discovers plate tectonics on Mars
by Stuart Wolpert UCLA News
View of central segment of Mars' Valles Marineris.
For years, many scientists had thought that plate tectonics existed nowhere in our solarsystem but on Earth. Now, a UCLA scientist has discovered that the geological phenomenon, which involves the movement of huge crustal plates beneath a planet'ssurface, also 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 sciencesand the sole author of the new research.
Yin made the discovery during his analysis of satellite images from THEMIS ThermalEmission Imaging System, an instrument on board the MarsOdyssey spacecraft, and from the HIRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
He analyzed about 100 satellite images - approximately a dozen were revealing of plate tectonics.
Yin has conducted geologic research in the Himalayas and
where two of the Earth's seven major plates divide. Tibet
"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.
For example, he saw a very smooth, flat side of a canyon wall, which can be generated only by a fault, and a steep cliff, comparable to cliffs in
California's Death Valley,
which also are generated by a fault. Mars has a linear volcanic zone, which Yin
said is a typical product of plate tectonics.
"You don't see these features anywhere else on other planets in our solar system, other than Earth and Mars," said Yin, whose research is featured as the cover story in the August issue of the journal Lithosphere.
The surface of Mars contains the longest and deepest system of canyons in our solar system, known as Valles Marineris (Latin for Mariner Valleys and named for the Mariner 9 Mars orbiter of 1971-72, which discovered it). It is nearly 2,500 miles long - about nine times longer than the Earth's
Scientists have wondered for four decades how it formed. Was it a big crack in
Mars' shell that opened up?
"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
fault system, which has also opened up and is moving horizontally."
The two plates divided by Mars' Valles Marineris have moved approximately 93 miles horizontally relative to each other, Yin said. 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, so Yin said they are comparable.
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."
Mars has landslides, and Yin said a fault is shifting the landslides, moving them from their source.
Does Yin think there are Mars-quakes?
"I think so," he said. "I think the fault is probably still active, but not every day. It wakes up every once in a while, over a very long duration - perhaps every million years or more."
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," Yin said. "The rate is much slower than on Earth."
The Earth has a broken shell with seven major plates; pieces of the shell move, and one plate may move over another. Yin is doubtful that Mars has more than two plates.
"We have been able to identify only the two plates," he said. "For the other areas on Mars, I think the chances are very, very small. I don't see any other major crack."
Did the movement of Valles Marineris North and Valles Marineris South create the enormous canyons on Mars? What led to the creation of plate tectonics on Earth?
Yin, who will continue to study plate tectonics on Mars, will answer those questions in a follow-up paper that he also plans to publish in the journal Lithosphere.