Over the past 16 years, the United States Geological Survery (USGS) has worked to create a global geographic map of Mars. The data to create the map principally came from 4 spacecraft: the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
One of the most interesting findings to emerge from this data set is that the oldest geological region of Mars (~4 billion years, brown color region) is 3 times larger than originally suspected. In addition, the data backs up recent research which demonstrates that Mars was a geologically active planet until recently. But what does the word “recently” really mean in terms of planetary science? Well, many scientists believe that Mars was last active approximately 10 million years ago, which was before the common ancestor of the chimpanzee and the human split (~6 million years ago). But that’s still just a small time period for the history of the planet.
The reason we care about geological activity is that active planets are believed to provide richly chaotic environments necessary for life to develop. Gaining a better understanding of Mars will give us a clearer picture of what to expect elsewhere in the Universe.
For a more detailed view at the map above, please visit the USGS site.