Scientists have long known that Mars was volcanically active billions of years ago. However, many believe that volcanic activity had long ago ceased. A team of scientists now believes Mars was volcanically active in much more recent history.
Scientists spotted what appears to be evidence of a recent volcanic eruption, but by recent, they mean on a cosmic timescale. The researchers are saying the evidence is believed to be of eruption dating within the last 50,000 years. While that’s still a vast length of time, the discovery could have implications for finding signs of microbial life on Mars.
The study looked specifically at a spot on the Elysium Planitia region of the Red Planet, specifically looking at what the scientists call “a mysterious dark deposit, covering an area slightly larger than Washington DC.” The deposit appears to be a very fine layer of ash and rock along a long fissure, which is seen roughly in the center of the image above.
Scientists on the project used data and imagery collected by various spacecraft on and orbiting Mars to support the idea of volcanic origin for the feature. There are numerous questions about how the feature was created. The team believes that a deeper magmatic source would likely be required to have created an eruption of this type.
Researchers have discovered similar eruptions on Mars that date to around 3 million years ago. The timeframe of 50,000 years ago would show a significantly younger volcanic corruption. Currently, the Mars InSight Lander is exploring the Elysium Planitia. However, it is about 1000 miles away from this particular deposit. Scientists also believe that if the source of the deposit is volcanic in nature, it could signal that Mars had conditions that could have sustained microbial life recently in its history.