Researchers find most volcanic activity on Mercury stopped about 3.5 billion years ago

Related Articles

Related Articles

New research from North Carolina State University finds that major volcanic activity on the planet Mercury most likely ended about 3.5 billion years ago. These findings add insight into the geological evolution of Mercury in particular, and what happens when rocky planets cool and contract in general.

There are two types of volcanic activity: effusive and explosive. Explosive volcanism is often a violent event that results in large ash and debris eruptions, such as the Mount Saint Helens eruption in 1980. Effusive volcanism refers to widespread lava flows that slowly pour out over the landscape — believed to be a key process by which planets form their crusts.

Determining the ages of effusive volcanic deposits can give researchers a handle on a planet’s geological history. For example, effusive volcanism was active a few hundred million years ago on Venus, a few million years ago on Mars, and it still takes place on Earth today. Until now, the duration of effusive volcanic activity on Mercury, made of the same materials as these other planets, had not been known.

 

NC State assistant professor and planetary geologist Paul Byrne and colleagues determined when the bulk of Mercury’s crust-forming volcanism ended by using photographs of the surface imaged by NASA’s MESSENGER mission. Because there are no physical samples from the planet that could be used for radiometric dating, the researchers used crater size-frequency analysis, in which the number and size of craters on the planet’s surface are placed into established mathematical models, to calculate absolute ages for effusive volcanic deposits on Mercury.

According to their results, major volcanism on Mercury stopped at around 3.5 billion years ago, in stark contrast to the volcanic ages found for Venus, Mars and Earth.

“There is a huge geological difference between Mercury and Earth, Mars or Venus,” Byrne says. “Mercury has a much smaller mantle, where radioactive decay produces heat, than those other planets, and so it lost its heat much earlier. As a result, Mercury began to contract, and the crust essentially sealed off any conduits by which magma could reach the surface.

“These new results validate 40-year-old predictions about global cooling and contraction shutting off volcanism,” Byrne continues. “Now that we can account for observations of the volcanic and tectonic properties of Mercury, we have a consistent story for its geological formation and evolution, as well as new insight into what happens when planetary bodies cool and contract.”

The research appears in Geophysical Research Letters, with co-authors from the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Mount Holyoke College, the University of Georgia, Southwest Research Institute and Brown University. The MESSENGER mission provided substantial funding for this work.

NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Camulodunum – The First Capital of Britannia

Camulodunum was a Roman city and the first capital of the Roman province of Britannia, in what is now the present-day city of Colchester in Essex, England.

African Crocodiles Lived in Spain Six Million Years Ago

Millions of years ago, several species of crocodiles of different genera and characteristics inhabited Europe and sometimes even coexisted.

Bat-Winged Dinosaurs That Could Glide

Despite having bat-like wings, two small dinosaurs, Yi and Ambopteryx, struggled to fly, only managing to glide clumsily between the trees where they lived, according to a new study led by an international team of researchers, including McGill University Professor Hans Larsson.

Ancient Maya Built Sophisticated Water Filters

Ancient Maya in the once-bustling city of Tikal built sophisticated water filters using natural materials they imported from miles away, according to the University of Cincinnati.

New Clues Revealed About Clovis People

There is much debate surrounding the age of the Clovis - a prehistoric culture named for stone tools found near Clovis, New Mexico in the early 1930s - who once occupied North America during the end of the last Ice Age.

Cognitive Elements of Language Have Existed for 40 Million Years

Humans are not the only beings that can identify rules in complex language-like constructions - monkeys and great apes can do so, too, a study at the University of Zurich has shown.

Bronze Age Herders Were Less Mobile Than Previously Thought

Bronze Age pastoralists in what is now southern Russia apparently covered shorter distances than previously thought.

Legio IX Hispana – The Lost Roman Legion

One of the most debated mysteries from the Roman period involves the disappearance of the Legio IX Hispana, a legion of the Imperial Roman Army that supposedly vanished sometime after AD 120.

Popular stories

Legio IX Hispana – The Lost Roman Legion

One of the most debated mysteries from the Roman period involves the disappearance of the Legio IX Hispana, a legion of the Imperial Roman Army that supposedly vanished sometime after AD 120.

The Secret Hellfire Club and the Hellfire Caves

The Hellfire Club was an exclusive membership-based organisation for high-society rakes, that was first founded in London in 1718, by Philip, Duke of Wharton, and several of society's elites.

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.