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Boffins say evidence of moving boulders on Mars suggest the planet might not be as dead and dormant as previously thought.
Pictures taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE since 2006 have revealed countless herringbone-like patterns on the planet's dusty surface.
Experts say these tracks – numbering in their thousands and which can be as long as a mile and a half – appear to be caused by falling boulders.
This suggests parts of the planet could be being rocked by 'Marsquakes' (ie earthquakes, but on Mars).
Back in 1975, NASA tried to detect seismic activity on the planet during the Viking Mission which was the first to put a spacecraft on the surface, but the planet is so windy it could not find definitive evidence.
But now the images showing the rockfalls – known to boffins as 'boulder fall ejecta' – suggest the planet's surface could still be geologically active.
Scientists also say tracking them backwards will be able to show which parts of Mars have the most seismic activity.
One complicating factor is the tracks tend to disappear over time due to the high winds and so it is not known exactly when they occurred. Similar tracks have also been seen on the moon and on comets.
A study published in Geophysical Research Letters, called 'Boulder Fell Ejecta: Present Day Activity On Mars' states: "All the BFE tracks mapped in this study suggest the boulder falls are frequent and occurring over decades on Mars.
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"From our survey, we find rockfall triggered by wind, thermal cracking and seismic shaking are reasonable triggers for the recent falls causing BFE. Our observations suggest that the present day occurrence of boulder falls is wide spread, and that they are happening more frequently.'
Various countries and companies and now fighting to be the first to get people on the planet but experts say a landing is still probably decades away.
NASA has no current plans for a such a mission as it is concentrating on a mission to the Moon, while Elon Musk has previously claimed it might be possible this decade.
- Spaced Out
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