With the Curiosity landing, there’s been a surge of interest a certain red planet we’re now roaming via robot. It might be too early in the week for learning, but pull up a chair, because what we learn about Mars may help us to understand our home planet a little better. An Yin, UCLA’s Earth and space sciences professor, discovered that Mars was more than likely experiencing plate tectonic movement while observing the Martian canyon, Valles Marineris.
His hunch was a pretty good one, and it's no wonder. An Yin is no stranger to the workings of plate tectonics. The man has conducted geological research in the Tibetan Himalayas, where two of our seven major tectonic plates meet, forming the mountains themselves. He noticed not only plate movement on Mars, but that this movement was quite similar to the early Earth’s tectonic plate movement, while analyzing satellite images of Mars. He spoke of his discovery with Mars Today:
“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.”
Of course, Mars’ tectonic structure is also extremely different from Earth’s. It is a much smaller planet than our own and quite possibly has only two crustal plates. An Yin’s discovery can open doors in understanding how our tectonic plates formed, and can finally provide something to compare and contrast with in relation to our own tectonic plates. This is a great learning tool, since there was nothing quite like our own tectonic plates before. Charting crust movement on Mars’ surface can also help us discover the history of Mars, something truly amazing.
To learn much more, check out Mars Today!