In a new study, a Cornell University scientist has suggested that Mars may not have a continental crust like Earth, and proposes the theory that its Gale Crater rocks were actually created out of intraplate volcanoes on the planet.
After the NASA Curiosity rover drilled deeply into the Gale Crater three years ago, research was conducted on the data that was taken. Scientists observed that there were “granite-like” rocks on the Red Planet, as the Cornell Chronicle reports. This suggested that Mars must certainly have a continental crust much like Earth’s.
However, as Cornell University associate professor Esteban Gazel noted, the process of creating continental crust is both time-consuming and highly complicated.
“To make continental crust you need to brew its ingredients for a very long time – millions and millions of years. The brewing process is complex, involving process of plate tectonics.”
In their new research, Gazel and co-lead author Arya Udry suggest that the crust on Mars may not have been formed by plate tectonics after all. They believe it is probable that the rocks from Gale Crater were actually created through intraplate volcanoes, similar to ones that are found in Iceland, Hawaii, and the Canary Islands.
“You can find it in Hawaii, Iceland or the Canary Islands. Volcanoes from these locations also produce magma that has high-silica content, but it does make it a continental crust. Although this magma has high amounts of silica, the magma lacks the remaining ingredients. This is just a natural process that happens in Earth’s volcanoes too, and it doesn’t necessarily make new continents.”
With hotspot volcanism, you don’t need cracks in tectonic plates to allow magma to seep up to ground level. What this process does instead is find thin spots in the crust of a planet which will allow the magma to break right through it.
To test their theory, researchers used a program called MELTS and analyzed a meteorite from Mars, along with surface rocks that were found on the Red Planet by NASA’s Spirit rover.
They studied the crystallization of magma that would have taken place once it had cooled, and observed that hot spot volcanism would have been able to turn magma into rocks that looked very similar to those discovered in the Gale Crater.
“Nevertheless, our study confirms the formation of Mars’ early magmas by activity similar to processes found in Hawaii today. There are gigantic upwellings of hot mantle material from deep regions in Mars.”
The new study on how Gale Crater rocks may have been formed through intraplate volcanoes has been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.