Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Mars May Be Much Older – or Younger – than Thought, According to Research by UB Planetary Geologist


Analysis of Martian volcanoes will help determine when Hesperian epoch began

This Martian map shows areas that UB researcher Tracy Gregg finds should no longer be considered Herperian: explosive volcanic deposits (light blue) are much older than the Hesperian epoch, whereas lava flows (red) probably are much younger.

Research by a University at Buffalo planetary geologist suggests that generally accepted estimates about the geologic age of surfaces on Mars -- which influence theories about its history and whether or not it once sustained life -- could be way off.

Funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the research eventually could overturn principles about the relative ages of different areas on the Red Planet that have not been questioned for nearly 20 years.

The findings also could cause scientists to reconsider the use of a critical tool -- counting impact craters created by meterorites -- that geologists use to estimate the age of planets they cannot visit in person.

"This has the potential to change everything we thought we knew about the age of different surfaces on Mars," said Tracy Gregg, Ph.D., assistant professor of geology at UB and chair of the Planetary Geology Division of the Geological Society of America. David Crown, Ph.D., of the Planetary Science Institute, is Gregg’s co-investigator on the grant.

Gregg’s research concerns an area on Mars called Hesperia Planum, which has been used since the 1980s to define the Hesperian epoch, the second of the planet’s three geologic time periods.

But in the past several years, recent analyses of images obtained from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter, (MOLA), the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) and other instruments have led to new estimates for the duration of the Hesperian epoch, ranging from just 300,000 years to 1-2 billion years, Gregg explained.

While other planetary geologists now are attempting to reconcile these two models, she said, her focus is on trying to figure out which surfaces on Mars originated in the Hesperian epoch, research that, in turn, probably will help to further define the duration of the Hesperian epoch.

"For almost 20 years, Hesperia Planum has served as the basic time marker on Mars," said Gregg.

"When we want to identify how old rocks are without the benefit of samples, we count impact craters, the big holes in planetary surfaces that are made by meteorites that crash into them," explained Gregg. "The more impact craters there are on a surface, the older it is."

But during the course of Gregg’s research reviewing images of Tyrrhena Patera, a volcano located in the middle of Hesperia Planum, she began finding deposits from not one Martian geologic epoch but from several.

Gregg made her findings using images obtained from the Viking Orbiter, the Mars Global Surveyor, the MOLA and the MOC. She also will be using data NASA is making available from THEMIS, the Thermal Mapping Infrared Spectrometer, which measures surface temperatures on Mars.

"Hesperia Planum is not one age. Its surface actually is a combination of materials that are very old, materials that are very young and some that are in between," she said, "and the volcanoes there are the reason why."

Gregg recently has demonstrated that two volcanoes in western Hesperia Planum were active during a much longer period than previously was understood and that the products of the eruptions traveled much further, signaling a greater intensity of volcanic activity than originally was thought.

Her findings, she said, are similar to ones made about 20 years ago on Earth, when geologists discovered that Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming was the center crater of an enormous volcano and that its deposits stretched as far as the state of Illinois.

Those findings, she said, changed fundamentally the understanding of volcanic activity on Earth.

In a similar vein, she said, the new observations about the great distances traveled by deposits of Martian volcanoes and their influence on the age of surfaces may cause a similar reconsideration of understanding of the history of Mars.

"I think that we are about to discover that Hesperia Planum, this surface that has acted as a basic time marker for Mars, has a very different age than we thought," she said. "If it turns out it’s much older than we thought, then it means that the system shut down a lot earlier and the chances of finding active living organisms on Mars are much slimmer.

"If, on the other hand, it turns out to be much younger, then it means Mars still may be volcanologically active, and if it is, that increases the possibility of extant life on Mars."

Contact: Ellen Goldbaum,
Phone: 716-645-5000 ext 1415
Fax: 716-645-3765

Ellen Goldbaum | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica
26.10.2016 | University of California - Irvine

nachricht Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere
25.10.2016 | American Geophysical Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>