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Volcanic Activity on Mercury Comes to an End

Aug 10, 2016 01:46 AM EDT
NASA's Messenger Spacecraft Captures Mercury
IN SPACE - JANUARY 14: The planet Mercury is shown from a distance of approximately 17,000 miles, taken by NASA's Messenger spacecraft January 14, 2008 at the spacecraft's closest approach to planet. The image shows features as small as six miles in width. Similar to previously mapped portions of Mercury, this hemisphere appears heavily cratered. On the upper right is the giant Caloris basin, including its western portions never before seen by spacecraft. Formed by the impact of a large asteroid or comet, Caloris is one of the largest, and perhaps one of the youngest basins in the solar system.
(Photo : Photo by NASA via Getty Images)

New study suggests that Mercury's volcanic activity came to a halt almost 3.5 billion years ago. This is reportedly earlier than other planets. Such results now provide researchers' new insight involving the geological evolution of Mercury along with other planets in the solar system.

Published in the journal of Geophysical Research Letters in July, the study validates the 40-year-old predictions on global cooling as well as contraction shutting off volcanic activity on Mercury. The research also suggests that Mercury's evolution came to a stop. Compared to other planets such as Earth, Mars, and Venus, the volcanic activity in planet Mercury ended prematurely.

"There is a huge geological difference between Mercury and Earth, Mars or Venus. 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," explains Paul Byrne, the lead author of the study.

Volcanic deposits can greatly provide insight regarding a planet's geological background. While Venus volcanic activity stopped a few hundred millions years ago, Mars' volcanoes were still active a few million years past. As for planet Earth, the volcanic activities continue to this day.

"Mercury is only about as big as Earth's moon," stated Dr. Caleb Fassett, co-author of the study. "We think that planets lose heat more efficiently when they're small. And Mercury is just a weird place in general - its mantle is very thin compared to its core."

Despite the research, there are limitations to the remote data gathered in the study, which might not be enough to strengthen the notion that indeed Mercury's evolution had ended prematurely. Samples from planet would be sufficient. This of course could be possible following a scheduled launch in 2017 by NASA along with the European-Japanese BepiColombo Mission. It is said to be the second mission to Mercury.

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