A meteorite small enough to fit into the palm of a hand has revealed clues to Mars’s volcanic history – and what a history it is.
Astronomers think the 7-ounce rock formed in a gigantic volcano on the Red Planet that erupted continuously for more than 2 billion years.
The sample is one of 11 meteorites knocked off the surface of Mars more than a million years ago. But while the other 10 each date back 500 million years, this one is 2.4 billion years old.
“What this means is that for 2 billion years there’s been sort of a steady plume of magma in one location on the surface of Mars,” Mark Caffee, a professor of physics and astronomy at Purdue University, said in a statement.
“We don’t have anything like that on Earth, where something is that stable for 2 billion years at a specific location,” Caffee added.
Scientists have yet to determine which volcano the meteorites came from, but Mars boasts a number of giant volcanoes.
At 17 miles tall and with a footprint as big as Arizona, Mars’s Olympus Mons is the largest volcano in the solar system.
On Earth, ever shifting plate tectonics prevent volcanoes from growing to such a size, but Mars doesn’t have an equivalent process.
Despite never having sent astronauts to Mars, scientists are able to learn about the planet through meteorites collected in Antarctica and North Africa.
“We add more than 1,000 meteorites per year, but only a few of those are interesting, including those originating from Mars and the moon,” said Caffee.
“The standard ones are sent to the Smithsonian, but the unusual ones are sent to NASA and the community of scientists is informed in case they want to request samples.”
The University of Manchester announced last week it would be sending scientists to Antarctica to uncover lost meteorites hidden in the continents ice for millions of years.
The iron-rich meteorites come from Mars, Moon and even long-dead planets destroyed when they collided with one another.