A meteorite discovered in Algeria in 2012 has led scientists to conclude that a volcano had erupted in Mars continuously for 2 billion years.

Mars has been host to several volcanoes and also houses the largest volcano of our solar system, the Olympus Mons.

Study of the meteorite led the researchers to believe that a volcano did exist on the Red Planet, which erupted continuously for 2 billion years.

"Even though we've never had astronauts walk on Mars, we still have pieces of the Martian surface to study, thanks to these meteorites," shared Marc Caffee, member of the meteorite research team and professor of physics and astronomy at Purdue University. 

How Did The Meteorite Reach Earth?

The journey of the meteorite began when something crashed into the surface of Mars either hitting the erupting volcano or just plain lava. The massive impact ejected rock fragments from the surface of the Red Planet into outer space. This phenomenon was possible due to the less gravitational attraction on Mars, coupled with the thin atmosphere.

The journey from outer space to Earth's surface was not a straight course. The fragments of rocks orbited in space for thousands or billions of years until a few of them passed close enough to enter a planet's orbit or an external force pushed it into the orbit.

The meteorites which arrived on Earth then started to degenerate over the years, until they became almost unidentifiable as extra-terrestrial rocks.

Meteor Northwest Africa 7635

The 6.9-ounce meteorites dubbed Northwest Africa (NWA) 7635 was one of the 100 Martian meteorites that landed on Earth. Out of these 100 meteor fragments, Caffee studied around 30 samples in the Purdue Rare Isotope Measurement (PRIME) Laboratory.

The study revealed that all the samples fell into certain age groups and had exposure to cosmic rays for about 1.1 billion years.                

The research stated that the other 10 meteorites belonged to the same time and were approximately 500 million years old. This indicated that the 10 meteorites were formed from cooling magma about half a million years ago on the Martian surface. However NWA was found to be 2.4 billion years old by the researchers.

Caffee says that the time period of the NWA depicts that there was a steady flow of magma in one of the areas of the Red Planet. Caffee also estimates that NWA 7635 could be a part of Olympus Mons.

The Curious Case Of Martian Volcanoes

Continuous eruption of volcanoes for a long period of time is non-existent and not heard of in the history of Earth. Martian volcanoes erupted for extreme durations and grew quite big in size as the Red Planet is devoid of tectonic plate movements unlike Earth.

The movement of tectonic plates is responsible for the formation of volcanoes and craters and are very much active on Earth, but stopped in Mars when the planet cooled down making the plates underneath it solid, preventing the formation of plates.

The largest volcano on Mars is Olympus Mons which is 17 miles high and has a foot print the size of Arizona.

The research has been published in Science Advances journal.

Photo: Kevin Gill | Flickr  

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