Elizabeth Zubritsky Jacob Bleacher Jacob Richardson Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
New NASA research reveals that the giant Martian volcano Arsia Mons produced one new lava flow at its summit every 1 to 3 million years during the final peak of activity. The last volcanic activity there ceased about 50 million years ago — around the time of Earth’s Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction, when large numbers of our planet’s plant and animal species (including dinosaurs) went extinct.
Located just south of Mars’ equator, Arsia Mons is the southernmost member of a trio of broad, gently sloping shield volcanoes collectively known as Tharsis Montes. Arsia Mons was built up over billions of years, though the details of its lifecycle are still being worked out. The most recent volcanic activity is thought to have taken place in the caldera-the bowl-shaped depression at the top — where 29 volcanic vents have been identified. Until now, it’s been difficult to make a precise estimate of when this volcanic field was active.