Latest findings could give scientists more insight into geological evolution of Mercury

Latest findings could give scientists more insight into geological evolution of

A latest paper appeared in the Geophysical Research Letters journal suggested that most of the most volcanic activity on Mercury, closest planet to the sun, most probably came to an end nearly 3.5 billion years ago. According to scientists, the findings may improve their understanding of the geological evolution Mercury, and what happens when rocky planets shrink and cool generally.

The team, including Paul Byrne, a planetary geologist and NC State assistant professor, explained that there are two kinds of volcanic activity on rocky planets: explosive and effusive.

A violent event is known as explosive volcanic activity, something similar to the 1991’s Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines, and the Mount Saint Helens 36 years ago. Whereas, effusive volcanism is described as the widespread lava flows that covers a landscape slowly. The team added that effusive is believed to be a main process in the crust formation of rocky planets.

Scientists can get to know about a planet’s geological history if they find out the ages of effusive volcanic deposits. For instance, on Earth, effusive volcanism is active even today, but on the Red Planet, it halted some million years back. On the second closest planet to the Sun, it ended some hundred million years back.

The team relied on the data from the NASA MESSENGER mission to find out the time when effusive volcanic activity came to an end on Mercury, a planet present at roughly thirty-six million miles from the sun.

It’s well known, that scientists don’t have any physical samples from the planet to use for radiometric dating, thus, they relied on the pictures of the surface of Mercury, used crater size-frequency analysis, wherein the size and number of craters are kept inside established mathematical models. With the help of them the team managed to calculate effusive volcanic deposits’ absolute ages on the planet.

A report published in Stgist revealed, "As reported in the NCSU website, a new paper published at the Geophysical Research Letters journal suggests that most volcanic activity on Mercury–a planet located at about thirty-six million miles from the sun–most likely ended about 3.5 billion years ago."

Determining the ages of effusive volcanic deposits can give scientists a hold on a planet’s geological history. For example, effusive volcanism is still active on Earth today, but on Mars, it stopped a few million years ago. On Venus, it ended a few hundred million years ago.

We all know that scientists have no physical samples from the planet which could be used for radiometric dating, so they used photographs of Mercury’s surface, and used crater size-frequency analysis, in which the number and size of craters are placed into established mathematical models. It allowed them to calculate absolute ages for effusive volcanic deposits on Mercury.

According to a report in Australia Network News by Donald Acosta, "The team did not have rock samples from Mercury that they could have used for radiometric dating. Instead, they used crater size-frequency analysis, through which they analyzed the craters’ numbers and sizes through pictures gathered by NASA’s MESSENGER mission."

The effusive volcanic deposits shed light into the geological evolution of Mercury. By comparison, this type of volcanic activity only stopped a few hundred million years ago on Venus and a few million years ago on Mars. On the other hand, effusive volcanic activity is still present on Earth.

“These new results validate 40-year-old predictions about global cooling and contraction shutting off of volcanism,” says planetary geologist Paul Byrne, who is also an assistant professor at North Carolina State University.


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