For years, it was believed that plate tectonics is unique to Earth. All other bodies in the solar system are uniplate planets!!
Now, for the first time, tectonic activity, which involves the movement of huge crustal plates beneath a planet's surface has been discovered on another planet.
A scientist from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has found evidence that the same crustal plates also exist on the Mars.
Lead researcher, An Yin, a UCLA professor of Earth and space sciences stated, "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.”
Analysis of 100 satellite images
After examining over 100 satellite images of Mars, Yin, who has conducted geologic research in the Himalayas and Tibet, found evidence of tectonic plates on the red planet’s surface.
The images were taken by two NASA spacecraft, THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) and the HIRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Yin explained, "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."
Features generated at fault line
Yin noticed steep cliffs, a very smooth flat side of a canyon wall and linear volcanic zone, features which can only be generated at fault line. They are very similar to features found on Earth, all indicating the presence of tectonic plates on Mars.
“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. 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 Dead Sea fault system, which has also opened up and is moving horizontally.”
2 plates identified
Yin theorizes that Mars has only two crustal plates (labeled Valles Marineris North and Valles Marineris South) which he claims move very slowly.
The Earth on the other hand has seven major plates which are very active. Also, there is a possibility that Mars fault line can trigger seismic activity.
This discovery can provide some clues about formation of our own planet’s tectonic plates and give some insight into way plates move in relation to one another.
Yin stated, "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. This may be the reason Mars has fewer plates than [we see] on Earth."
"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."
The results appear in the journal Lithosphere.