This Mars Volcano Went Extinct at the Same Time as Dinosaurs

by Monica Hunter-Hart
Flickr / Rusty Russ

We think Earth’s volcanoes are pretty awesome, but the ones on Mars truly blow ours away.

There’s Tharsis, which once erupted so powerfully that it caused the entire planet to tilt on its axis. There’s Elysium, which has an exceptional chemical composition that’s baffled scientists. And then there’s Arsia Mons, a volcano lying just below Mars’s equator which actually has something in common with Earth, as scientists have just discovered.

New NASA research identifies the approximate timing of Arsia Mons’s extinction. According to a breaking report, the volcano used to erupt every 1 to 3 million years. Then, about 50 million years ago, it stopped producing lava altogether.

Enter another significant extinction in our solar system: that’s right, the obliteration of the dinosaurs (from an asteroid impact that, by the way, caused its own enormous volcanic eruption). NASA scientists now know that the deaths of the dinosaurs and Arsia Mons actually happened around the same time.

How’s that for interplanetary solidarity?

Mars' MC-17 quadrangle; that circle at the top left is Arsia Mons


According to NASA’s report, Arsia Mons’ era of peak activity was probably around 150 million years ago, during Earth’s late Jurassic period. Its caldera — the crater formed when a volcano collapses into itself — is around 68 miles long and has 29 vents, out of which flowed .25 to 2 cubic miles of lava every million years, which is slow compared to volcanoes on Earth. Arsia Mons gradually grew out of these fluid lava flows, which makes it a “shield volcano” (because it’s low to the ground and therefore looks like a warrior’s shield … or at least, that’s the idea).

There’s still a lot we don’t know about Arsia Mons. In the report, NASA even acknowledged that there’s still a chance the volcano actually has gone off a couple of times within the last 50 million years, which would be quite recent, geologically-speaking. More research is essential, since volcanoes are one of the keys to understanding Mars’s history and development.

Presumably Arsia Mons saw the destruction on Earth and decided it’d be better to close up shop too. It must’ve been pretty depressing to witness the annihilation of a beast as awesome as the T-Rex (though we’re definitely better off without those guys).

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