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UCLA Scientist Discovers Plate Tectonics On Mars

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the was-just-trying-to-find-the-rest-room dept.

Mars 87

Reader SternisheFan links to a press release at UCLA, and excerpts from it another bit of Mars news: "For years, many scientists had thought that plate tectonics existed nowhere in our solar system but on Earth. Now, a UCLA scientist has discovered that the geological phenomenon, which involves the movement of huge crustal plates beneath a planet's surface, also exists on Mars. 'Mars is at a primitive stage of plate tectonics. It gives us a glimpse of how the early Earth may have looked and may help us understand how plate tectonics began on Earth,' said An Yin, a UCLA professor of Earth and space sciences and the sole author of the new research."

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I think I'll wait... (5, Informative)

TWX (665546) | about 2 years ago | (#40959935)

...for the followup papers by other scientists examining his findings before I make a conclusion. I have a friend who actually is a planetary geologist and focuses most of his attention on Mars, and I haven't heard any of this from him.

Re:I think I'll wait... (1)

bhcompy (1877290) | about 2 years ago | (#40959961)

Yea, this is basically self-published by the school, rather than going through a journal publishing process. Regardless, it looks obvious

Re:I think I'll wait... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40959999)

To be honest, this surprised me. So much so that I... expelled flatulence out of my very own asshole!

Wow! Such a thing! This day has been full of surprises!

Re:I think I'll wait... (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40960051)

Regardless, it looks obvious

Excellent! When do we file the patent?

Re:I think I'll wait... (5, Funny)

osu-neko (2604) | about 2 years ago | (#40960441)

Regardless, it looks obvious

I dunno... plate tectonics on Mars? Seems faulty to me... ;)

Agree (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40962609)

Maybe if it was tectonic plates .... but plate tectonics definitely sound "faulty".

Alfred Wegener (1)

Moabz (1480009) | about 2 years ago | (#40962785)

Imagine what the scientific establishment would have said back in 1912, had Alfred Wegener proposed this then.

Re:I think I'll wait... (1)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about 2 years ago | (#40965197)

The Republican party just called, they do not believe in Plate tectonics and demand the controversy about it be taught in schools.

Something about an attack on manifest destiny by liberals or the like.

Re:I think I'll wait... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40961003)

That was just the obligatory press release by UCLA. The peer reviewed version is here (paywalled): http://lithosphere.gsapubs.org/content/4/4/286.short?rss=1&amp%3bssource=mfr

After reading the original article it doesn't seem to clinch the case as much as the press release would have you believe. Several plate tectonics like mechanisms have been proposed for both Mars and Valles Marineris previously.

Re:I think I'll wait... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40962339)

Yea, this is basically self-published by the school, rather than going through a journal publishing process. Regardless, it looks obvious

"You don't see these features anywhere else on other planets in our solar system, other than Earth and Mars," said Yin, whose research is featured as the cover story in the August issue of the journal Lithosphere.

Re:I think I'll wait... (1)

somegeekynick (1011759) | about 2 years ago | (#40964329)

Not that it necessarily validates the finding, but this paper has appeared in a peer-reviewed journal [gsapubs.org] published by the Geological Society of America.

Re:I think I'll wait... (5, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#40960123)

I have a friend who actually is a planetary geologist and focuses most of his attention on Mars, and I haven't heard any of this from him.

In that case, you must yell louder for him to notice you. Or just dress in red.

Re:I think I'll wait... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40963303)

I have a friend who actually is a planetary geologist and focuses most of his attention on Mars, and I haven't heard any of this from him.

In that case, you must yell louder for him to notice you. Or just dress in red.

While wearing a white hat and white socks.

Re:I think I'll wait... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40963193)

I agree. It looks rather dubious. Tectonics, yes. There are fault systems, volcanoes, and other tectonic features all over the place, most of which look inactive or at least the majority appear to be very old (hundreds of millions to billions of years) based on crater densities. Plate tectonics? There's more than one way to make a fault (plain old gravity sliding/slumping on the valley sides), and the evidence that the central part of Valles Marineris is an impact crater as shown in that picture is ... rather poor. There's no central peak, no concentric fault systems, and where is the other evidence for any kind of strike-slip offset like that picture suggests? There should be plenty of it on either side of the valley, because *everything* should be offset like that, not just a hypothetical impact crater in the middle. To be plate tectonics as opposed to other types of tectonics, there should be oceanic crust forming at spreading ridges and subduction happening somewhere to consume it. Where is that on Mars? Even if you accepted all the fault systems indicated in the picture in that article that doesn't make it *plate* tectonics.

In summary, the article is thoroughly unconvincing. I'll wait for the peer-reviewed paper.

I studied under Prof. Yin back in the day (1)

Safety Cap (253500) | about 2 years ago | (#40966857)

He knows his stuff, even if he came from U$C. :)

Wow. Is the southern hemisphere a supercontinent? (5, Interesting)

mfarah (231411) | about 2 years ago | (#40959937)

I always found it odd that Mars' southern hemisphere would be so much higher than the northern one. This discovery means it might be simply a supercontinent that will be, in spite of its size, a transient[*] feature.

I'd like to hop on a time machine, go forward 200 years and read up a book on the geology of Mars. I wonder if they'll name previous continents (assuming they can be determined) by a system that uses names from famous Mars-related stories. The first bunch of continents named after features in the John Carter of Mars stories, another bunch taken straight from Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, et cetera.

[*] In a geological time scale, of course.

Re:Wow. Is the southern hemisphere a supercontinen (1)

TWX (665546) | about 2 years ago | (#40959947)

Maybe we now know what happened to those canals... damn earthquakes!

Or would they be marsquakes?

Re:Wow. Is the southern hemisphere a supercontinen (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40961507)

THAT'S what you'd do if you could travel into the future?

You must be fun at parties.

Re:Wow. Is the southern hemisphere a supercontinen (5, Funny)

Paradise Pete (33184) | about 2 years ago | (#40963065)

I've been working on a time machine. I've got it to the stage where it can make small jumps into the future. Right now it can go one minute ahead. You just get in, sit in the chair, and press the button. It's not (yet) instantaneous, though. It takes about 60 seconds to complete the trip. I just need some more funding. Look for my kickstarter project soon. If it passes the $100K level I'll put in a more comfortable chair, which would open the way to longer journeys.

Re:Wow. Is the southern hemisphere a supercontinen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40961971)

Why not just support human life extension research? Or at least human reversible hibernation... Time travel is not possible.

Re:Wow. Is the southern hemisphere a supercontinen (3, Informative)

Scarletdown (886459) | about 2 years ago | (#40962345)

Why not just support human life extension research? Or at least human reversible hibernation... Time travel is not possible.

Of course it's possible, but only forward, and only at the rate of 1 second per second.

Re:Wow. Is the southern hemisphere a supercontinen (1)

jo_ham (604554) | about 2 years ago | (#40963145)

Why not just support human life extension research? Or at least human reversible hibernation... Time travel is not possible.

Of course it's possible, but only forward, and only at the rate of 1 second per second.

Well, you can go forwards as much as you like, up to a limit since your craft can never reach light speed since it has mass. Just accelerate in an arc away from the earth at a constant 1 or 2 G on a trajectory that will eventually bring you back to the start for 10 years. When you land you've travelled much more than 10 years into the future.

Re:Wow. Is the southern hemisphere a supercontinen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40963315)

True, but the passage of time itself is dependent on gravity.
Theoretically, you could decelerate time in a certain 'bubble', say by 1/1000 .
Living inside this 'bubble' 1 year, would be a 1000 year outside the bubble, allowing you to travel forward in time.

Re:Wow. Is the southern hemisphere a supercontinen (1)

yndrd1984 (730475) | about 2 years ago | (#40962659)

Time travel is not possible.

How do you know that?

Why not just support human life extension research?

Because this kind of research 1% highly speculative, unlikely to be developed in my lifetime technology, although one that could be the greatest single technological advance ever, and the other 99% is bullshit sold by con artists

And here's the key: I'm not sure I'm qualified to tell the difference between the two.

Re:Wow. Is the southern hemisphere a supercontinen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40965113)

We don't have the technology to pull it off but it is possible. You can orbit a black hole and time would slow down by about 50% or travel at 99.x% of the speed of light and slow down time by a truly significant amount (1 year of travel at full speed and about ~100 years would pass outside the vessel). Logic suggests, however, that time travel is only possible forwards and never backwards in time due to the grandfather paradox. In any case, some truly remarkable spaceships would be needed to pull it off, and I'm sure it would take us centuries to develop the actual tech.

My point is - time travel is possible albeit not today.

Re:Wow. Is the southern hemisphere a supercontinen (2)

Teancum (67324) | about 2 years ago | (#40972247)

You can orbit a super-massive black hole (like the one at the galactic center) and slow down time significantly.... but at the cost of not just massive exposure to radiation but also tidal forces that would rip your legs and head off your body even while technically outside of the event horizon (thus still in theory capable of leaving).

Travel at 99.9x% of the speed of light has other similar health risks where the background cosmic radiation can through blue shifts in frequency turn into deadly radiation... much less any star light that was formerly in the visible light bands when traveling at that speed. Collision avoidance of any "dark" objects would be tricky too, like any wandering comets or asteroids much less planet sized objects in interstellar space. Heck, smashing into something the size of a walnut would not be pretty, although that would be mostly a part of that same radiation hazard at that speed.

Primitive? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40959955)

I would guess the exact opposite. What I've read is that the theory is that Mars lost its atmosphere and electromagnetic field due to the core of Mars cooling and solidifying. IIRC it's core stopped spinning or slowed as well.

Shouldn't this mean that as Mars ages tectonics slow to a halt? For example, if the layers under the Earth's crust cooled, solidified and stopped rotating, isn't the theory that Earth will end up looking a lot like Mars in the far away future?

Re:Primitive? (4, Interesting)

Brad1138 (590148) | about 2 years ago | (#40960019)

That was my thoughts as well. I don't believe it is at a "primitive" stage, but a very advanced stage. This is what the earth will become, not what it was.

Re:Primitive? (4, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#40960483)

Eh, I think the idea was that Mars plate tectonics was frozen at an early, "primitive" stage, not that it is currently experiencing said stage.

Re:Primitive? (1)

Brad1138 (590148) | about 2 years ago | (#40960703)

Eh, I think the idea was that Mars plate tectonics was frozen at an early, "primitive" stage, not that it is currently experiencing said stage.

Ah, in that case... nevermind [youtube.com]

Volcanos (4, Interesting)

michaelmalak (91262) | about 2 years ago | (#40959969)

One would expect this with Martian vulcanism [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Volcanos (1)

Dunbal (464142) | about 2 years ago | (#40960043)

My thought exactly. I mean I'm not a geologist, but you'd sort of expect that the "largest volcano in the solar system" wasn't powered by an isolated puddle of magma. But ok, I realize there's a difference between proving something and speculating about it. They still won't get me to read the article though.

Re:Volcanos (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40960249)

Ever hear of Hawaii? The fact that Olympus Mons is so damn big is actually evidence for a lack of plate tectonics.

Re:Volcanos (1)

Dunbal (464142) | about 2 years ago | (#40961109)

Like I said, I'm no geologist. But surely the much lower gravity and atmospheric pressure has a lot to do with the size as well. Not the same popping a champagne cork at sea level and at the top of Mt. Everest, assuming you can keep the damned thing in at that altitude. I wonder how densely packed that big mountain is, compared to say - Earth.

Re:Volcanos (5, Interesting)

Xtifr (1323) | about 2 years ago | (#40961221)

Actually, I've usually heard Olympus Mons mentioned as evidence against plate techtonics. It was created by a hot-spot, like the Hawaiian islands, but the reason it's so big is that the plates aren't moving, so the hot-spot stayed in the same place the whole time. If the Pacific plate weren't moving, there would only be one Hawaiian island, and it would be much bigger!

Re:Volcanos (1)

Xtifr (1323) | about 2 years ago | (#40961223)

Whoops, I misread the post I replied to. We're obviously actually in agreement. Still, I hope I explained the mechanism involved a little better for people who may have been confused by the original post.

Re:Volcanos (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#40964205)

Is Spock the leader?

Scientists didn't I think that. (3, Interesting)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#40959971)

What the hell happened to Venus? It's about 80 percent of the earth's mass. Why on Venus wouldn't it have a plate tectonics? Just because you can't see it happen doesn't mean it's not there.

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40960099)

Let's not forget the little round ball that has volanoes spewing liquid nitrogen all over the place.
In fact, any planet near a gas giant is almost certainly going to have tectonics of some sort because of the field strengths involved.
Those planets get stretched constantly.

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 2 years ago | (#40964929)

I think that you mean Triton, orbiting Neptune.

There are a lot of little round balls out there. And even more little not-so-round balls. And some very large and quite round balls. A little more precision would be helpful. It might even improve your miserable self-esteem to the point that you can bear to be identified by your posts.

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (1)

tmosley (996283) | about 2 years ago | (#40960351)

We can't observe it through the cloud cover. It is likely that much of the surface is plastic, and that there are thus no plates at all.

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (2)

zippthorne (748122) | about 2 years ago | (#40961621)

We can and certainly do observe the surface of venus under the cloud cover. Using satellite and interplanetary radar.

Volcanoes on Venus are an especially interesting feature - lava domes.

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (2)

TexVex (669445) | about 2 years ago | (#40960355)

What the hell happened to Venus? It's about 80 percent of the earth's mass. Why on Venus wouldn't it have a plate tectonics? Just because you can't see it happen doesn't mean it's not there.

Because it does not have tidal forces from a large nearby moon tugging on it like Earth does.

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40960681)

What the hell happened to Venus? It's about 80 percent of the earth's mass. Why on Venus wouldn't it have a plate tectonics? Just because you can't see it happen doesn't mean it's not there.

Because it does not have tidal forces from a large nearby moon tugging on it like Earth does.

And no water to help the plates slip past one another.

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#40961569)

What the hell happened to Venus? It's about 80 percent of the earth's mass. Why on Venus wouldn't it have a plate tectonics? Just because you can't see it happen doesn't mean it's not there.

Because it does not have tidal forces from a large nearby moon tugging on it like Earth does.

The solar tide on Venus is nearly as strong as the lunar tide on Earth. The planets are close to the same size and density so they probably have close to the same composition. Therefore they must have close to the same heating due to nuclear decay. Nearly the same tidal force. There is no doubt a difference in surface rock composition due to the lack of liquid water.

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (1)

TexVex (669445) | about 2 years ago | (#40961739)

I never realized that solar tides are so strong, and of course they would be stronger on Venus than Earth. And it does make sense that the tidal effects on liquid water are going to have a much more dynamic effect on a planet than those that just affect solid rock. Thank you for helping educate me.

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (1)

Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) | about 2 years ago | (#40963317)

Doesn't Venus spin too slowly for the tides to have pronounced enough effect?

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (2)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#40963827)

Yeah it does. I didn't think of that. It rotates 240x slower than the Earth. I figure the amount of energy released by the tidal effect is probably about proportional to the square of the rate of rotation, so tidal heating would be very little compared to Earth even though the tidal force is almost as strong. Most of its core heat, of which it apparently has a lot since it seems to have been recently resurfaced by supervolcanoes, must come from radioactivity.

Resurfacing: Time to Leave? (2)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#40963945)

I don't usually reply to my own posts but here's another interesting thought.

  • Why do we find other planets and moons with evidence of large-scale volcanic resurfacing that's not found on Earth?
  • Has Earth dodged a bullet for the last two billion years?
  • Does it only happen when the core gets cool enough and Earth's not there yet? (If so, how far away is the time when we have to start worrying about it?)
  • Does liquid water on the surface cause formation of a lighter, thicker crust that prevents resurfacing?
  • Does having a supermoon like ours cause massive tides that stir things up enough to prevent the formation of enormous pockets of magma that could resurface the planet? (Again, since tidal force is steadily reducing, are we approaching a dangerous condition?)

These thoughts are giving me the willies. Time to get my kids off this doomed rock.

Re:Resurfacing: Time to Leave? (1)

Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) | about 2 years ago | (#40966409)

Has Earth dodged a bullet for the last two billion years?
[...] having a supermoon [...]

Clearly not [;)], and that seems to be the interesting hypothesis - that being hit by a massive enough object might cause significant fragmentation of otherwise uniform crust and get the thing going.

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (1)

Convector (897502) | about 2 years ago | (#40965313)

Most of the energy the Earth receives is dissipated in the oceans. Very little is used to heat the interior. Back when the Moon was much closer to the Earth, the tidal heating on both bodies would have been more significant, but the Moon has receded so far away that it's not that important now.

The bulk of the Earth's (and Venus's) internal heating is the result of the decay of long-lived radioactive isotopes in the mantle (K, U, Th), and heat leftover from the accretion and differentiation processes. Assuming the solar nebula had similar compositions where Venus and Earth formed, then they ought to have similar amounts of radioactivity. Venus may have actually retained more of its accretionary heat, since it lacks plate recycling, which is a very efficient way for the Earth to cool. Less that 1% of the Earth's heat flow is from volcanoes. We don't actually know Venus's long-term tectonic regime. Currently it's lithospheric conduction, which is very inefficient. But the relatively young (~ 700 My) surface age suggests it must have resurfaced somehow.

As for TFA, I'm quite skeptical. Plate tectonics on Mars has indeed been investigated before. In the nineties, the hemispheric dichotomy was hypothesized to be a plate boundary. But the rest of the geological evidence was not convincing, and I don't think it ever gained much support. In the late nineties / early aughts, there were measurements of stripes of crustal magnetism in the southern highlands, a pattern similar to the magnetic reversals on Earth's seafloor. This brought up the idea of seafloor spreading, but the Martian stripes are much larger, and it's hard to see how this would occur in the thickest part of the crust.

The primary evidence for left lateral slip in TFA seems to be an offset impact crater. But I don't see it. The southern edge does look vaguely like an arc, but I see nothing on the northern side resembling a crater rim. The floor of the putative crater is the same depth as the rest of the Valles. I wouldn't expect that if this was actually an impact feature. I also don't see how lateral slip would result in such a wide rift. I think it's more likely this is actually a rift; extenison driven by loading of the lithosphere by Tharsis.

Further evidence presented is the linear arrangement of Arsia, Pavonis, and Ascraeus Montes. This has previously been suggested as evidence for hotspot volcanism. But here we have only three giant volcanoes instead of the dozens in the Hawaii-Emperor seamount chain. So if it's a plate moving over a hotspot, it's very puncutated. Moreover, the direction of motion would have to be perpendicular to that required for lateral movement along Valles Marineris. Furthermore, the linear pattern of the Tharsis Montes is only remarkable when you exclude the two large volcanoes that don't fall on that line: Alba Patera and Olympus Mons.

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40960825)

The geology of Venus is very different. It may have completely replaced it's crust 300 million years ago (recent in geologic terms) and this may be a cyclical process.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geology_of_Venus#Global_resurfacing_event

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40962343)

There's also a theory that 300 mya was the time of a massive impact, so massive that the planet is in the process of reforming, and its atmosphere is still going nuts some 300 million years later. The reverse rotation is a good indicator of this. We may be looking at what earth experienced if the theory of a massive impact created the moon.

Venus might very well have had a moon at some point, could have come crashing down on it. That or mercury was its moon. There's a crazy amount of theories out there.

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40962187)

The most likely scenarios is Venus got steamed over by some large SOB.

Seriously, look at its parameters,

Sidereal rotation period -243.018 5 day (Retrograde)
Axial tilt 177.3 degrees

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus [wikipedia.org]

and for Mars,

Sidereal rotation period 24.622 9 h
Axial tilt 25.19degrees

So, Mars is like Earth. Kind of "normal". The day takes about same amount of time and tilt is similar. Mars is kind of like a twin of Earth. And since there is evidence for water on Mars in the past (back when it had a magnetic field), tectonic plates are kind of expected.

Of course *now*, that tectonic activity may have stopped. There is no evidence for recent tectonic activity on Mars. Mars lost its water and atmosphere to space, mainly due to collapsed magnetic field. The planet is just too small to carry on the "dynamo" going for 4,000,000,000 years. 2,000,000,000 years ago, Mars could be with liquid water and maybe even breathable atmosphere.

As to Venus, well, its axis tilt is fucked. It is spinning the "wrong way" (opposite of other planets). Something big rolled over Venus long time ago, bit enough to make it spin the other way. Maybe it never recovered from that event. And since Venus now has no tectonic activity (observed via a Magellan)

  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magellan_probe [wikipedia.org]

it can't remove its CO2 from atmosphere, and well, that is causing problems. Like being the hottest place in the solar system. Current understand of tectonic plates require water to "push" one planet beneath another. On Venus, there is evidence that internal pressure is causing some parts to go up and some down, but there is insufficient height differential to force one plate under another and no water to fill in the holes and move the "low" areas lower. So you end up with no tectonic plates.

As to an example of another planet that got reamed by something large, it would be Uranus. It has axis tilt of about 90 degrees

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (2)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 2 years ago | (#40965069)

So, four out of the classical nine planets (Venus, Earth, Uranus, Pluto) got "fucked over" by something late in their formation, leading to double-planets/ giant moons (Earth-Moon ; Pluto-Charon) or high axial tilts (Venus, Uranus).

Four out of nine is nearly a majority, isn't it?

Breaking News! Mercury has been mantle stripped. It's over-dense for it's size, and looks like the core of a somewhat larger terrestrial planet which has had much of it's mantle torn off. Which is one of the things that a giant impact can do.

So that makes five out of nine.

Looks to me like giant impacts may be "normal" in the formation of planets.

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (1)

GodGell (897123) | about 2 years ago | (#40965363)

As to an example of another planet that got reamed by something large, it would be Uranus.

I'm not even going to go there...

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (1)

Paradise Pete (33184) | about 2 years ago | (#40963085)

Venus was Steve Jobs' planet, so it never had plates.

Re:Scientists didn't I think that. (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 2 years ago | (#40964981)

Venus is a very interesting question.

It certainly has lava flows (from the radar data mentioned elsewhere). It has volcano-like (though not very like Earth volcanos) structures. But there's very little evidence for current activity. On the other hand, crater counts (even accounting for the much thicker atmosphere) suggest that the visible surface is all younger than the average of the Earth's continents. But on the gripping hand, older than the average of the Earth's oceans.

No-one knows what is going on there. One of the more interesting (to me, as a geologist) suggestions is that Venus has lost the water from it's surface which on Earth would get partly subducted into the mantle, leading to a stiffer mantle on Venus, and thus differences in the mode of heat transport on Venus. (Earth has a few 10ths of a percent of water in it's mantle.)

But anyone who claims "this is the solution" is almost certainly wrong. There are different theories, and all have some good points and some bad points. Take your pick.

Really? Which legitimate scientists thought that? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40959979)

"For years, many scientists had thought that plate tectonics existed nowhere in our solar system but on Earth."

Why would anybody that is a legitimate scientist think that? They might not think any place else has evidence of it yet, but that's distinct from believing it exists nowhere else.

Re:Really? Which legitimate scientists thought tha (1)

WCguru42 (1268530) | about 2 years ago | (#40961141)

That's not that astounding of a claim to make. There are only a handful of antes in our solar system that are rocky, and there wasn't necessarily evidence to support plate tectonics on those other planets. Now, if the claim had been that there weren't plate tectonics anywhere else in the galaxy, then yes, that would be quite a bold claim.

Re:Really? Which legitimate scientists thought tha (4, Insightful)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | about 2 years ago | (#40962493)

Why would anybody that is a legitimate scientist think that?

Because in serious science, being wrong is not a crime. In fact, the first person to state "we have no evidence for X, so we must assume it does not exist" often get's the credit for setting some student or other off to prove him wrong. Just remember, the true crime is being "not even wrong". Try to be wrong at least once a day; then you might learn something. The only condition is that you have to realise that you were wrong.

He discovered evidence of past tectonic movements (4, Interesting)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#40960005)

While the existence of tectonics on Mars is interesting in its own right, the really fascinating question is whether it is still continuing today. Yin seems to jump to the conclusion that it does without much data to back it up. I would like to see some measurements examining Martian tectonic movements. It shouldn't be that hard, we can already do that with centimeter precision here on Earth. If Mars turns out to be tectonically active, that would mean it still has a hot liquid mantle and it's not the cold dead planet we tought it was.

Re:He discovered evidence of past tectonic movemen (4, Informative)

tiffany352 (2485630) | about 2 years ago | (#40960055)

The reason why we have precise measurements is because we have 30 satellites in extremely precise orbits that are carefully measured and corrected, which broadcast GPS signals all day long. There is really no practical way of getting a system like that in place now or in the foreseeable future on Mars.

Re:He discovered evidence of past tectonic movemen (1)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#40960593)

The reason why we have precise measurements is because we have 30 satellites in extremely precise orbits that are carefully measured and corrected, which broadcast GPS signals all day long. There is really no practical way of getting a system like that in place now or in the foreseeable future on Mars.

It probably wouldn't be that hard to get a system with LORAN level [wikipedia.org] resolution now. There's just no use for it. Any rovers around now can just use existing Mars orbiters to get a position.

Re:He discovered evidence of past tectonic movemen (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 2 years ago | (#40962315)

We knew of plate tectonics long before we had that kind of precision. OTOH, we knew of it because of intensive geological explorations.... which is also impractical on Mars for the near future.

Re:He discovered evidence of past tectonic movemen (1)

Dunbal (464142) | about 2 years ago | (#40960073)

It would beg the question of where the magnetic field whent though...

Re:He discovered evidence of past tectonic movemen (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#40960463)

Venus also has volcanic activity without a magnetic field.

Re:He discovered evidence of past tectonic movemen (1)

Local ID10T (790134) | about 2 years ago | (#40960437)

I would like to see some measurements examining Martian tectonic movements. It shouldn't be that hard, we can already do that with centimeter precision here on Earth.

No problem, Boss. I'll just pop over and get those for you. Back in time for tea!

questions, questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40961481)

1) The Fine Article states that Mars is in a primitive stage of plate tectonics without explaining what that means. Whether it's in an early and developing stage or it never progressed beyond a similar stage in Earth's early history because its core's motivation is insufficient are unexplored possibilities, at least within the context of the linked article.

2) What indicates that these observations show 150 years of tectonic activity? (Oh, and would these be Terran or Martian years? We don't actually have 150 years of observations of the surface of Mars with sufficient detail to allow a researcher to derive actual data, do we?)

An inquiring mind at Slashdot is stymied once again.

huh? (1)

resignator (670173) | about 2 years ago | (#40960205)

Forgive me, IANAPG but didnt Mars cease to be geologically active long ago. Which is why we see no active volcanoes and very little atmosphere (no shielding from solar winds). Also, if earth is the only planet with active tectonics why is Venus literally covered with active volcanoes and an atmosphere thousands of times denser than earth?

Re:huh? (5, Informative)

osu-neko (2604) | about 2 years ago | (#40960397)

Forgive me, IANAPG but didnt Mars cease to be geologically active long ago.

That's what we thought, which makes this finding surprising.

Also, if earth is the only planet with active tectonics why is Venus literally covered with active volcanoes and an atmosphere thousands of times denser than earth?

It's literally covered with active volcanoes, rather than having them occur largely along narrow zones near fault lines, precisely because it appears to lack plate tectonics, which would cause it to vent its internal heat more like Earth does rather than it's peculiar Venusian way...

Its a good thing that Curiosity is from California (3, Funny)

toygeek (473120) | about 2 years ago | (#40960405)

Its used to earthquakes.

Re:Its a good thing that Curiosity is from Califor (1)

antdude (79039) | about 2 years ago | (#40961593)

Its what? :P

Re:Its a good thing that Curiosity is from Califor (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40961899)

marsquakes

A primitive stage... or a late stage? (1)

Max Threshold (540114) | about 2 years ago | (#40960897)

Hasn't it long been assumed that Mars had plate tectonics in the past? Because it's a smaller planet and lacks a large moon, its mantle has cooled and plate tectonics has stopped. Then its core cooled, its magnetic field weakened, and its atmosphere was blown off by solar wind...

Re:A primitive stage... or a late stage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40964303)

Agreed with all you said except for the solar wind blowing off the atmosphere. I believe the solar wind brings much need other chemicals and ions to the planatery cousins. I believe your progression is correct thou, the core cooling leads to weakening magnetosphere, to increased solar wind affecting the planet. And at mar's distance from the sun it needs the wind to convect much needed heat. The expansion the paper sees is long dead. there are no active volcanos there. I see reported no marquakes, to imply active volcunasism, so the expansion may be related to the cooling of the planet expanding any in ground ice, like the cold places on earth cooling cracks the ice into lines, that look like valleys.

Re:A primitive stage... or a late stage? (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 2 years ago | (#40965121)

"Assumed" - no.

About a decade ago, magnetometry produced weak evidence for magnetic "striping" running more-or-less parallel to the (present) Martian equator. That certainly stimulated much thinking about the tectonics of Mars (plate tectonics, overturn tectonics, hotspot tectonics?). But that's an open debate on a changing evidence base, not an assumption.

Definitive? (1)

The Chemical Crow (263530) | about 2 years ago | (#40961015)

Unless I missed something, it looks like this is based off of geographical features looking like features on Earth. Is this really definitive?

Teraformation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40961129)

Then we can expect volcanoes, release of more CO2, melting of ice, and the creation of a denser atmosphere. This is indeed intriguing.

Split crater fuzzy (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 2 years ago | (#40962475)

The elevation map showing the alleged "split" crater in the valley is not very convincing. Is there other evidence that the two halves are really a crater, or is the claimant over-matching faint patterns?

Over-matching faint patterns has a long track record with Mars, where they used to "see" linear canals thru Earth telescopes. Turned out to be observers who were over-connecting the dots.

Re:Split crater fuzzy (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 2 years ago | (#40965319)

It doesn't convince me either. Looking at the video [youtube.com] (linked to from the original article)it looks as if his thesis is more about the effects of basally-detached slabs (subduction from a spreading centre in the region of the Tharsis volcanos?) generating "V-shaped" fault patterns. But that would have the sense of movement on Vallis Marineris in the opposite sense to what is marked on the press-release.

I'm not going to hold my breath looking to see what actually comes out of this. Looks like a pretty poor press release to me, and I'm not inclined to by the paper. If it flies, there'll be something in the public domain eventually.

next lander may contain a seismometer (1)

peter303 (12292) | about 2 years ago | (#40965763)

One Earth plate tectonic boundaries are defined by lines of earthquakes. One of the Viking probes had seismometer. But it did not see motion other than the wind.

Of course Mars has faults. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40965789)

Pardon my ranting, but I'm a graduate student in planetary geology working on Mars, and this sort of thing annoys me. The news article implies some things that are just silly. That's because of the journalist though, not the science.

Mars has asstons of faults (yes, that is the technical scientific term). We've known for decades. The article makes it sound like Dr. Yin discovered that Valles Marineris is a fault system... We've _also_ known that for decades. See the abstract for http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/1977/JS082i028p04067.shtml , published in 1977. First sentence: "The Valles Marineris, an enormous canyon system spanning more than one quarter of the equatorial girth of Mars, exhibits in its landforms the consequences of uniquely Martian extensional tectonics and a variety of erosional and depositional processes."

Extensional tectonics, notice. Yes, like Death Valley. You don't need full-scale global plate tectonics to create these sorts of features, either. There have been plenty of other theories about its origin because that's what scientists do; we've wondered for decades whether Valles Marineris was REALLY a fault system or whether there could be some other process going on, because going and actually looking in detail is hard. But that's science for you. "Valles Marineris is a fault system" is a pretty old idea and you'd have to go pretty far to find a Mars scientist who didn't think it was broadly correct.

But journalists keep misunderstanding. Scientists come up with piles of ideas for how things COULD work. Something that seems like it would result in what you see, and that fits with what you think you know about the rest of the planet, or physics problem, or whatever. Then many people in many different disciplines look at their work and say "sure that makes sense" or "no I don't believe it", and the field as a whole slowly wobbles its way towards consensus (or doesn't, at the case may be). Sometimes new information makes it clear that everything we thought we knew was wrong, though it made sense at the time. Or often it just confirms that we were right all along, or says that the general idea was right but we were missing some details. For Mars we very little information, so lots of people tend to say "It COULD work this way", and there's not a lot of basis to say "No, probably not".

The difference between Mars and Earth is that as far as we know, on Mars there was no _global_ process like plate tectonics that defined the structure of the entire planet. There were plenty of _local_ processes, like the volcanos of Tharsis or rebound of the giant impact of Hellas and such. Dr. Yin's work is actually pretty cool because he's saying that things are more complicated than just straightforward local effects, and you can recognize some trends that are large-scale enough to start to look like the sort of global processes that Earth has. He's saying things like Valles Marineris is not _just_ a rift created by the Tharsis rise stretching the crust, but there's some amount of strike-slip or twisting component to it that which suggests that alone is not the complete story. It might get more eyeballs looking for these sorts of features, and maybe we'll find more things that start to outline plates. Or maybe not! But we'll never know unless we look.

But Dr. Yin has not "discovered plate tectonics on Mars". He has discovered what he thinks is evidence for something that looks like plate tectonics on Mars. Could he be right? Sure! Could he be wrong? Quite possibly. People have certainly looked for this sort of thing before, and found lots of different evidence, like the magnetic striping mentioned elsewhere in the comments. But there's not enough information to put it all together into an idea and say "This is how it works, it explains what we see, and other ideas don't, so we're pretty sure this one is right".

Re:Of course Mars has faults. (1)

Convector (897502) | about 2 years ago | (#40969083)

I'm also a planetary geophysicist and generally agree with your assessment. I also note that the author is a terrestrial geologist. This is as far as I can tell, his first foray into planetary science, and so he may not be so familiar with the planetary literature. Plate tectonics has previously been hypothesized on Mars (Sleep, 1994) [agu.org] . The press release suggests that somehow, for forty years, no one has seriously looked at Valles Marineris. It clearly has a tectonic origin, but I don't see evidence for plate tectonics.

Primitive (1)

MrL0G1C (867445) | about 2 years ago | (#40965817)

Mars is at a primitive stage of plate tectonics.

Yeah, fuck you mars, you're crappy tectonics aren't nowhere near as goods as ours, and don't even think about copying our plate movements because we're patenting them.

Primitive stage??!! (1)

doccus (2020662) | about 2 years ago | (#40967087)

If , as is generally agreed, Mars is somewhat older than Earth, and was stripped of it's atmosphere and lost it's magnetic core in it's death throes, then it's plate tectonics wouldn't be at a "primitive" stage, but an advanced state of entropy, essentially.. having slowed down due to cooling of the interior of the planet.. Since it's generally conceded that the first two conditions on Mars occurred, then what kind of scientist would compare the third condition (plate tectonics) to an *early* stage? It's ludicrous..
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