Mars has gone through a series of global volcanic upheavals

March 15th, 2008 - 1:08 pm ICT by admin  

London, March 15 (ANI): A new analysis of impact cratering data, using images from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on Mars Express, has revealed that the Red Planet has undergone a series of global volcanic upheavals.

These violent episodes spewed lava and water onto the surface, sculpting the landscape that ESA’s Mars Express looked down upon.

According to Gerhard Neukum, Freie Universitat Berlin, Germany, and colleagues, who are discovering the history of the Red Planet’s geological activity, “We can now determine the ages of large regions and resurfacing events on the planet.”

Resurfacing occurs when volcanic eruptions spread lava across the planet’s surface.

The new analysis has suggested that the sculpting of the Martian surface has not proceeded in a steady fashion, as it does on Earth.

Rather, the team has discovered that Mars has been subject to violent volcanic activity five times in the past, after the early supposedly warmer and wetter phase, more than 3.8 thousand million years ago. In between these episodes, the planet has been relatively calm.

The five volcanic episodes stretch throughout Martian history, occurring around 3.5 thousand million years ago, 1.5 thousand million years ago, 400-800 million years ago, 200 million years ago and 100 million years ago.

According to Neukum, the dates of the earlier episodes are correct to within 100-200 million years and that the later dates are correct to within 20-30 million years.

The ages have been estimated by counting the number of small craters that appear on the landscape. The idea is simple: the older the surface, the more craters it will have accumulated as meteorites of all sizes have struck over the ages.

During these volcanic episodes, eruptions of lava flowed across Mars. The internal heat generated by the volcanic activity also caused water to erupt from the interior, causing wide-scale flash flooding.

As for why Mars behaves like this, geophysical computer-based models have suggested that the planet has been trying to establish a system of plate tectonics, as there is on Earth where the crust is broken into slowly moving plates.

On Mars, the volcanic episodes represent the planet almost achieving, but not actually attaining, plate tectonics and these volcanic episodes might not be over.

“The interior of the planet is not cold yet, so this could happen again,” said Neukum.

Far from revealing a geologically dead world, Mars Express is exposing a place of subtle activity that could still erupt into something more spectacular. (ANI)

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