THE search for signs of life on Mars is intensifying.
In research published last week, scientists claim to have found new evidence of underground volcanic activity on the planet.
They say that this movement of hot magma triggers earthquake-like marsquakes in a certain region of the red planet.
If true, the finding would lend credence to theories that life may exist in underground caves on Mars.
Warm subsurface magma and groundwater thought to be present there could provide habitat for alien microbes.
Researchers from the Australian National University came to their conclusion after combing through data from NASA’s InSight Mars lander.
The car-sized robot has lived on the planet since 2018 and measures, among other things, marsquakes.
Little is known about the subsurface vibrations, and scientists hope to use InSight data to get a better idea of Mars’ interior.
The new study, published in nature communicationuncovers 47 previously undiscovered marsquakes beneath the Martian crust.
They were discovered in Cerberus Fossae – a seismically active region on Mars less than 20 million years old.
The authors of the study suspect that volcanic activity in the inner layers of the planet is the cause of the newly discovered tremors.
If true, the results suggest that magma in the Martian mantle is still active.
Previously, scientists have argued that the tremors – similar to those on Earth – are the result of strong tectonic forces on Mars.
The repetition of these tremors and the fact that they were all detected in the same area suggests that Mars is more seismically active than scientists previously thought.
“We found that these marsquakes occurred repeatedly at all times of the day on Mars,” said ANU scientist and study co-author Professor Hrvoje Tkalčić.
“Whereas marquakes detected and reported by NASA in the past seem to have only occurred in the middle of the night when the planet is quieter.
“Therefore, we can assume that the movement of molten rock in the Martian mantle is the trigger for these 47 newly discovered marsquakes under the Cerberus Fossae region.”
He added that the conclusion is that, contrary to what some scientists believe, Mars is still volcanically active.
“Knowing that the Martian mantle is still active is critical to our understanding of how Mars evolved as a planet,” he said.
“It can help us answer fundamental questions about the solar system and the state of Martian core, Martian mantle and the evolution of its currently absent magnetic field.”
Scientists have long known that billions of years ago, Mars had active volcanoes and vast, intertwining rivers and lakes.
This is one of the reasons why many believe that microscopic life may have once roamed the once fertile soil of Earth’s mysterious neighbor.
Rapid changes in the planet’s atmosphere caused its surface to become the barren, dusty wasteland it is today.
However, some experts believe that the old girl is not out of action just yet.
They’ve argued for decades about whether Martian volcanoes are still active or just as dead as the rest of the planet.
If magma is indeed active beneath the planet’s surface, the chances of life growing there are far higher.
That’s because microbes need a mix of heat, water, and nutrients to survive. Moving, hot magma would provide one of those key ingredients.
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