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Scientist discovers plate tectonics on Mars
Posted On: Aug 10, 2012
View of central segment of Mars' Valles Marineris, in which an older circular basin created by an impact is offset for about 93 miles by a fault. Photo: Google Mars created by MOLA Science Team.
LOS ANGELES (PTI):
The phenomenon of plate tectonics, previously thought to exist only on Earth also occurs beneath the surface of Mars, a scientist has claimed.
A researcher from UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) found that the geological phenomenon, which involves the movement of huge crustal plates beneath a planet's surface, also exists on the red planet.
"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.
Yin made the discovery during his analysis of satellite images from a NASA spacecraft known as THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) and from the HIRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
He analysed about 100 satellite images - approximately a dozen were revealing of plate tectonics.
Yin has conducted geologic research in the Himalayas and Tibet, where two of the 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," Yin said in a statement.
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.
The study was published in the journal Lithosphere.
The surface of Mars contains the longest and deepest system of canyons in our solar system, known as Valles Marineris. Scientists have wondered for four decades how it was formed.
"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," Yin added.
"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," Yin said.
"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," Yin added.
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," Yin added.
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