According to experts, volcanoes on Mars and Earth dinosaurs went extinct about the same time. A NASA study—published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters—claims that the last volcanic activity on Mars ceased some 50 million years ago, precisely during the time of our planet’s Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction period—when large numbers of plants and animal species on Earth (including dinosaurs) went extinct.
According to new data obtained by NASA, giant Martian shield volcano Arsia Mons produced one new lava flow at its summit every 1 to 3 million years during the final peak of activity.
Experts say that evidence points to the fact that the last volcanic activity on Mars ceased some 50 million years ago, precisely during the time of our planet’s Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction period, when large numbers of plants and animal species on Earth (including dinosaurs) went extinct.
As reported by NASA, Until now, it’s been difficult to make a precise estimate of when this volcanic field was active.
“We estimate that the peak activity for the volcanic field at the summit of Arsia Mons probably occurred approximately 150 million years ago—the late Jurassic period on Earth—and then died out around the same time as Earth’s dinosaurs,” said Jacob Richardson, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
“It’s possible, though, that the last volcanic vent or two might have been active in the past 50 million years, which is very recent in geological terms,” added Richardson.
The new findings were presented at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. The study also is published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
To gather the required data, experts performed a technique referred to as crater counting–calculating the total number of craters at least 100 meters in diameter–in order to estimate the ages of the flows.
Experts also mapped the boundaries of the lava flow identified in each of the 29 volcanic vents, coming up with the the stratigraphy, or layering, of the flows.
As expleianed by NASA, the modeling also yielded estimates of the volume flux for each lava flow. At their peak about 150 million years ago, the vents in the Arsia Mons’ caldera probably collectively produced about 1 to 8 cubic kilometers of magma every million years, slowly adding to the volcano’s size.
“Think of it like a slow, leaky faucet of magma,” said Richardson. “Arsia Mons was creating about one volcanic vent every 1 to 3 million years at the peak, compared to one every 10,000 years or so in similar regions on Earth.”
“A major goal of the Mars volcanology community is to understand the anatomy and lifecycle of the planet’s volcanoes. Mars’ volcanoes show evidence for activity over a larger time span than those on Earth, but their histories of magma production might be quite different,” said Jacob Bleacher, a planetary geologist at Goddard and a co-author on the study. “This study gives us another clue about how activity at Arsia Mons tailed off and the huge volcano became quiet.”
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Featured image: This digital-image mosaic of Mars’ Tharsis plateau shows the extinct volcano Arsia Mons. It was assembled from images that the Viking 1 Orbiter took during its 1976-1980 working life at Mars.