Mars is like Earth in a lot of ways: It snows on the Red Planet, and a full day is a little more than 24 hours. Now, scientists have found yet another similarity. Just like Earth, Mars also has tectonic plates.
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For years, scientists suspected these tectonic plates existed on the Red Planet. But UCLA Professor An Lin confirmed it this week after analyzing more than 100 satellite images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. About a dozen of those images contained features Yin had seen before in his studies of Earth's major plate divides.
"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 in a statement.
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This week, Curiosity beamed its first high-resolution images of Mars. The Red Planet's incredible desert-like landscape is eerily similar to that of California or Patagonia. And based on Yin's research, the Mars rover is sure to find even more similarities during its two-year trip.
Mars has very smooth canyon walls, a feature that only a fault can generate. We can see those same images in California's Death Valley, where a similar fault is located. Additionally, 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," Yin said.
These plate tectonics explain the landslides that we already knew occurred on Mars. But could they mean that the planet also suffers from major earthquakes?
"I think so," Yin 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 describes Earth as a broken eggshell, with seven major plates. However, Yin has only seen two plates on Mars. While he hasn't yet seen images of the entire planet, he doesn't expect that there are any other major plates.
But just how did those tectonic plates form? Yin plans to answer that question in his follow-up round of research, which will appear in the journal Lithosphere.
This story originally published on Mashable here.
- Science, Social Science, & Humanities
- tectonic plates