A massive column of molten rock 25,000 miles wide discovered beneath the northern plains on Mars could hold the ingredients for “alien bugs” to thrive underground.
Monday’s announcement comes from scientists at the University of Arizona’s Lunar & Planetary Laboratory, who suggest the rocks generate methane and hydrogen that could be used as energy by current microbial life.
The team notes that microbes on Earth thrive in similar environments and believe it could be the same on Mars.
The molten rock is not only a haven for life, but also explains why the earthquakes are detected near this region known as Cerberus Fossae, where the Elysium Planitia volcanic complex is located.
Beneath the Cerberus Fossae system (pictured) is a column of molten rock that is 4,000 kilometers wide. Scientists believe this creates a perfect environment for microbial life
Mars is seen as a cold, barren wasteland that has been “dead” for billions of years, but the new research provides more evidence that the Martian world is “alive,” SWS reports.
Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions take place beneath the silent, deceptive surface.
“Our results show that the interior of Mars is geodynamically active today,” write planetary geophysicists Adrien Broquet and Jeffrey Andrews-Hanna of the University of Arizona, “and imply that volcanism has been driven by mantle plumes from the formation of the Hesperian volcanic provinces.” and Tharsis is past for Elysium Planitia today.’
For how life might thrive underground, the team said the region studied has experienced floods of liquid water in its recent geological past, though the cause has remained a mystery.
“The same heat from the plume that fuels the ongoing volcanic and seismic activity could also melt ice to cause the floods — triggering chemical reactions that could sustain life deep underground,” Andrews-Hanna said.
The Cerberus Fossae is a fissure system where the Elysium Planitia volcanic complex is located. The new study also determined that the Elysium Planitia is where many of the earthquakes on Mars originate
Artist’s impression of an active mantle plume – a large blob of warm and buoyant rock – rising from deep inside Mars and pushing up Elysium Planitia, a plain in the planet’s northern lowlands
“Microbes on Earth thrive in environments like this, and that could also be true on Mars,” Andrews-Hanna said, adding that the discovery goes beyond explaining the puzzling seismic activity and resurgence of volcanic activity.
The team combined orbital observations and geophysical computer models of the fissure system – Cerberus Fossae – revealing evidence of volcanic surface deposits as old as 5,000 years old.
Located within the 800-mile stretch of Cerberus Fossae, the Elysium Mons volcanic complex harbors molten lava and causes marsquakes to strike the planet.
“Our study presents multiple lines of evidence revealing the presence of a giant active mantle plume on present-day Mars,” Broquet said.
The team used data from NASA’s Insight rover, which first landed on Mars in 2018, and has identified a large number of marsquakes within the surface of Mars.
The Insight team recently determined that nearly all marsquakes originate from this region and announced their findings in October.
These results showed that magma could flow deep below the surface of Mars, spewed out by a volcano over the past 50,000 years.
Volcanism and earthquakes that occur on Earth are usually associated with shifting plate tectonics, but Mars has no plate tectonics, and this led the team to theorize that the events are the result of a mantle plume.
Mantle plumes are giant blobs of warm and floating rock that rise from deep within a planet’s interior and push through the intermediate layer — the mantle — to reach the base of the Earth’s crust, causing earthquakes, faults and volcanic eruptions.
For example, the island chain of Hawaii was formed when the Pacific plate drifted slowly over a mantle plume.
“We have strong evidence that mantle plumes are active on Earth and Venus, but this is not expected on a small and supposedly cold world like Mars,” Andrews-Hanna said. “Mars was most active 3 to 4 billion years ago and the prevailing view is that the planet is essentially dead today.”
“A tremendous amount of volcanic activity early in the planet’s history built the tallest volcanoes in the solar system and covered most of the Northern Hemisphere in volcanic deposits,” Broquet said. “What little activity there has been in recent history is usually attributed to passive processes on a cooling planet.”
The Insight team recently determined that nearly all marsquakes originate from this region and announced their findings in October
The team said the same heat from the plume that fuels the ongoing volcanic and seismic activity could also melt ice to cause the floods — triggering chemical reactions that could sustain life deep underground.
Taking a closer look at Elysium Planitia’s features, the team saw that the surface had lifted more than a mile, which is consistent with the inner workings of a mantle plume.
And separate measurements showed that the floor of impact craters is tilted toward the plume, further supporting the idea that something pushed up the surface after the craters formed.
Finally, with all evidence pointing to a plume, the team applied a tectonic model to the area, revealing the presence of a giant plume 4,000 kilometers wide.
This “was the only way to explain the expansion responsible for forming the Cerberus Fossae,” researchers shared in the announcement.
“In terms of what you expect to see with an active mantle plume, Elysium Planitia ticks all the right boxes,” Broquet said, adding that the finding challenges models used by planetary scientists to study the thermal evolution of planets. .
Previous research on the Cerberus Fossae has suggested the region was volcanically active for the past 10 million years, but in October researchers found that magma could be flowing deep below the surface of Mars, spewed from a volcano over the past 50,000 years.
“This mantle plume has affected an area of Mars roughly equivalent to that of the mainland United States. Future studies will have to find a way to account for a very large mantle plume that was not expected.
“We used to think that InSight landed in one of the most geologically dull regions on Mars — a nice flat surface that should be roughly representative of the planet’s lowlands,” Broquet added. “Instead, our research shows that InSight landed right on top of an active plume.”
The presence of an active plume will affect the interpretation of the seismic data recorded by InSight, now taking into account that this area is far from normal for Mars.
“Having an active mantle plume on Mars today is a paradigm shift for our understanding of the geological evolution of the planet,” Broquet said, “similar to when analyzes of seismic measurements during the Apollo era showed that the moon’s core was molten. .”