Just as in the case of Earth, tectonic thrusting played a major role in shaping Mars - making it far more likely to host extra-terrestrial life, a new study says.

Previously, it was believed that no such activity has ever taken place on the Red Planet.

An area of rumpled land north-west of the giant volcano Olympus Mons contains many ridges and scarps that the new research claims are likely signs of plate tectonic activity.

This is evidence of plate shifting on Mars during the last 250,000 years, said study author An Yin of the University Of California, Los Angeles, the Daily Mail reports.

Conventional wisdom holds that Mars - unlike Earth - is too small and has too cold an interior to host plate tectonic processes, according to a University of California statement.

But Yin claims to have evidence that plate tectonics carved out many of the landforms on Mars - and that they are still shaping the planet today.

If true, this would mean Mars is far more likely to host extra-terrestrial life than previously thought, according to space.com, because plate tectonics could help replenish nutrients, such as carbon, needed to sustain life.

Said Yin, who presented his findings at last month’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco: “People don’t want there to be plate tectonics on Mars. But I think there’s good evidence for it.”

His research focused on a series of photographs of the region to the north-west of Olympus Mons taken by two NASA spacecraft - Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance.

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