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Mar 14 / Dave Schumaker

Mars’ Volcanic Past

New research from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission offers some intriguing insights into Mars’ volcanic past. Researchers from the Freie Universität in Berlin, Germany suggest that prior volcanic activity did not proceed in a steady as it does on Earth, but it happens in large, catastrophic events.

Mars by the ESA Mars Express
Image Credit: European Space Agency

This work has suggested that the sculpting of the Martian surface has not proceeded in a steady fashion, as it does on Earth. Rather, the team have discovered that Mars has been wracked by 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. Neukum estimates that 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.

Why does Mars behave in this fashion? The article goes on to suggest that it represents Mars trying to achieve active plate tectonics and almost succeeding and these volcanic episodes might still continue in the future.

I wonder if any previous (or future) Mars missions have ever thought of putting a seismometer on the surface. Then again, that might be relatively useless because the Martian winds could buffet the seismometer and only having one station would be useless in trying to locate potential seismic activity.

Update: Wow. In looking at the list of related topics below the story, I sure do use the word “thought” quite often when it comes to Mars.

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