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Do plate tectonics exist on Mars?

written by Julia Casey on September 23, 2000
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A Martian mountain range.
A Martian mountain range.
Credit: NASA
Mars is commonly thought to be a smaller version of Earth. Although lacking in the biosphere department, it's surface features are quite earth-like with long mountain ranges, wide spans of desert-like terrain, dormant volcanoes and deep canyons.

On the outside it appears much the same as the planet underneath our feet, but recent discoveries concerning the geological composition of Mars are suggesting otherwise.

One distinguishing feature of Mars is that it has no measurable magnetic field. Earth's own magnetic field is due to its rather swift rotation swirling our liquid outer core and creating a dynamo. Since Mars rotates at a rate close to ours, the absence of a Martian magnetic field would seem to indicate that Mars is solid throughout.

Could the solidification of Mars be a consequence of the lack of large bodies of surface water and the absence of a large moon? A large moon such as our own would tug at the planet's interior, heating it up significantly - that in combination with the tidal forces that would result from the ocean/moon combination could give Mars a completely different look.

This has several implications to colonizing Mars. Without a medium, there would be no movement of any possible tectonic plates and presumably no earthquakes. This would also rain on the idea of using explosions of some sort to trigger volcanic eruptions and thicken the atmosphere.

The absence of a molten core will probably have several unforeseen implications to colonization in the future, but until we have the chance to further investigate the innards of the Red Planet, theories about how and why it is geologically the way it is will remain just theories and colonization will remain an enormous challenge.

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