Academic journal article Science and Children

Mars's Molten Past

Academic journal article Science and Children

Mars's Molten Past

Article excerpt

Researchers have discovered that Mars was covered in an ocean of molten rock for about 100 million years after the planet was formed. The findings appear in the journal Nature.

The formation of the solar system can be dated quite accurately to 4,567,000,000 years ago, explains Qing-Zhu Yin, assistant professor of geology at the University of California, Davis, and one of the study's authors. Mars' metallic core formed a few million years after that. Previous estimates for how long the surface remained molten ranged from thousands of years to several hundred million years.

The persistence of a magma ocean on Mars for 100 million years is "surprisingly long," Yin says. It implies that at the time, Mars must have had a thick enough atmosphere to insulate the planet and slow down cooling, Yin explains.

University of California, Davis, researchers who collaborated on the work with the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, and NASA's Johnson Space Center inferred the early history of Mars in the distant past by studying meteorites that fell on the Earth.

Meteorites called shergottites document volcanic activities in Mars between 470 million and 165 million years ago. These rocks were later thrown out of Mars's gravity field by asteroid impacts and delivered to Earth, a free "sample return mission" accomplished by nature. …

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