In a new Mars update (the first update can be read here), mysterious rocks have been found and there may have been a fairly recent volcanic eruption.
NASA’s Perseverance Rover discovered some unusual rocks in the Jezero Crater and has been studying them with two of its instruments – the rock-zapping SuperCam laser and the WATSON (“Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and Engineering”) camera.
It’s unclear whether these rocks are sedimentary or volcanic. If they are volcanic in origin, this would be a huge help for experts understanding the history of the crater that billions of years ago had a lake and a river delta. If the rocks turn out to be sedimentary, they may have been created over a long period of time from sand, silt, and clay which may hold clues to ancient Martian life (if there ever was any).
In order to know for sure, the rover may need to collect samples from inside of the rocks. “When you look inside a rock, that’s where you see the story,” Ken Farley, who is the Perseverance’s project scientist at Caltech, said in a statement.
In other Mars news, scientists have found evidence of what might be the most recent volcanic eruption, suggesting that the planet may still be volcanically active and life may have been present there not too long ago. While it’s not news that experts have floated around the possibility that the Red Planet may still be volcanically active, this new research sheds a whole new light on the theory.
While the majority of volcanic eruptions happened on Mars between 3 and 4 billion years ago, some experts have suggested that they could have occurred as recently as 2.5 million years ago. But that’s nothing compared to this most recent study as scientists have found evidence of an eruption that occurred just within the last 50,000 years.
By analyzing data collected from satellites that are orbiting the Red Planet, researchers focused on an 8-mile-wide smooth dark volcanic deposit located in a region called Elysium Planitia. While other volcanic eruptions on the planet resulted with lava flowing along the surface, this newly discovered one seemed to have a fairly recent amount of rock and ash sitting on top of a lava flow. (A picture can be seen here.)
In a statement, David Horvath, who is a planetary scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, and the lead author of the study, said in a statement, “This eruption could have spewed ash as high as 10 kilometers (6 miles) into the Martian atmosphere.” And according to prior research, there may still be magma moving deep underground the Cerberus Fossae area of Mars.
Jeff Andrews-Hanna, who is a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona at Tucson and another author of the study, weighed in by stating, “If lava was erupting to the surface only 50,000 years ago, and the area is still rumbling with seismicity today, that means that it could erupt again.”
And since this newly discovered eruption occurred near the most recent large impact crater, experts have suggested a possible connection between the two – perhaps the impact triggered the volcanic eruption (it’s just speculation at this point but it is an interesting hypothesis). Furthermore, the heat from the recent eruption may have helped potential microbial life to thrive on Mars although that hasn’t been proven either as no proof of life has been found yet.