Science Says There May Be Significant Volcanic Activity on Mars

The most recent activity may have occurred 50,000 years ago.

A new study by researchers at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and the Planetary Science Institute reveals that there is evidence that a volcanic eruption on Mars could have taken place at least 50,000 years ago. "This may be the youngest volcanic deposit yet documented on Mars," said lead study author David Horvath, who did the research as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Arizona and is now a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute. "If we were to compress Mars' geologic history into a single day, this would have occurred in the very last second."

rendering of mars volcano
gaiamoments / Getty Images

The last volcanic eruption, which occurred tens of thousands of years ago, produced an eight-mile-wide, smooth, dark deposit around a 20-mile-long volcanic fissure vent. "When we first noticed this deposit, we knew it was something special," said study co-author Jeff Andrews-Hanna, an associate professor at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, who was also the senior author on the study. "The deposit was unlike anything else found in the region, or indeed on all of Mars, and more closely resembled features created by older volcanic eruptions on the Moon and Mercury."

NASA's InSight lander has been studying seismic activity on Mars since 2018. This eruption occurred about 1,000 miles away from NASA's technology. This is the first sign of volcanic activity, though. According to Space, most volcanic activity on Mars occurred between three and four billion years ago, which left behind giant monuments such as Olympus Mons—the tallest mountain in the solar system.

"This does not necessarily confirm past life on Mars, but does imply an environment conducive to habitability," said Horvath. Although an eruption that occurred 50,000 years ago may not seem all that recent, experts say it is relatively young and offers proof that the planet may have been and, and still could be, habitable.

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