Meteor over Alaska sets off volcano sensors

A bright fireball meteor that passed over western Alaska on October 15th caused enough disturbance in the atmosphere to set off volcano sensors throughout the region.

The event, which took place on October 15, triggered six of the sensors’ alarms at a new monitoring station on the Kenai Peninsula. The sensors are built to detect low-frequency sound waves in the atmosphere during volcanic activity, but in this case they picked up waves coming from the meteor that had streaked across the sky around 360 miles away.

In a Facebook post, the USGS said the meteor also triggered an alarm at Mount Spurr—a large, active volcano that sits around 80 miles from Anchorage that last erupted in 1992. However, as other monitoring systems also picked up on the waves, “it quickly became clear that this was not activity at Mount Spur,” the post said.

It is ironic, but those sensors, designed to monitor volcano eruptions, have likely also provided scientists some worthwhile data on asteroids.

Hat tip Commander Cobra of Task Force Gryphon

Martian crater filled with lava

Lava filled Martian crater
Click for full image.

Cool image time! Unlike most of the recent images I’ve posted from Mars, today’s has nothing glacial about it. Instead, the photo to the right, cropped to post here, shows us a crater where lava broke through the southern rim to fill its interior.

The picture was taken on July 15, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The crater is located within what I call volcano country on Mars, just inside the Athabasca Valles lava field, what some scientists believe [pdf] is the youngest lava field on Mars, estimated have occurred less than 600 million years ago.

The overview map below provides context.

Overview map

The tiny white box south of Elysium Mons indicates the location of this crater. The dark blue areas indicate the extent of the Athabasca lava field. The Medusae Fossae Formation is the largest volcanic ash deposit on Mars.

The Athabasca lava field is about the size of Great Britain, and is thought to have been laid down in only a matter of a few weeks. When it spread it clearly reached this crater, the lava pushing through to fill it. If you look at the full image you can see that the north-trending lava flow even continued past the crater a considerable distance on both sides, the crater acting like a big rock in a stream, blocking the flow.

Since this happened more than half a billion years ago, a lot of erosion has occurred, mostly between the crater’s rim and the edge of the ponded but now solidified lava.

The longest lava tube in the solar system?

A lava tube on Mars
Click for full image.

Before I delve into today’s cool image, I think it important to explain to my readers why I seem to post so many cool images from Mars. The simple explanation is that Mars right now is where almost all the cutting edge planetary research is taking place, and as a science journalist focused on space exploration I must go to that cutting edge. My dear readers know that I love variety (just consider the evening pauses on Behind the Black), but you can’t ignore the reporting of real discoveries simply to increase the diversity of one’s posts. This is too often what modern news outlets do, which is also why they often miss the real story.

Anyway, today’s cool image to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, shows only a small section of what might be the longest lava tube in the entire solar system. Taken on May 5, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), it shows a string of pits along a meandering depression coming down the northwest flank of the giant volcano Arsia Mons. The image was a follow-up to a July 2014 photo of the same location, and was taken to produce a stereo pair.

The feature strongly suggests a lava tube, with the pits being skylights into the meandering underground void. From top to bottom this section of the tube is a little over three miles long. Since there are lava tubes on Earth far longer, this one image hardly makes this the longest tube in the solar system.

The tube, however, extends off the image both at the bottom and at the top. Not many high resolution images have been taken in this area, so it is therefore hard to say how far the tube extends. Other nearby high resolution images in this area however have found similar lava tubes, which conceivably could be part of the same tube. The overview map below shows the relationship.
» Read more

In the midst of Mars’ volcano country

lava channel
Click for full image.

Cool image time! While the rest of the world is entirely focused on panic and disease, I am going to go on with my life. The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on December 26, 2019. I suspected this channel was lava, and when I asked Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona, he confirmed my suspicion.

Yes, that surface appears to be lava–it is part of the Elysium plains, which have many geologically-young lava flows. It’s likely that the channel is a lava channel, and the surrounding plains may be from an earlier stage of the same eruption.

The entire surface of the channel and the surrounding plains appear very fresh, mostly because of their smoothness and lack of many craters. You can also see what looks like a recent impact (the small dark splotch near the left edge about two-thirds from the top).

The fresh and smooth look of Elysium Planitia generally has led scientists to conclude that much of this region is formed from lava flows, some relatively recently. Thus, this particular lava channel is smack dab in the middle of Mars’ volcano country, quite vast and extensive. The context map below illustrates this.
» Read more

Martian impact into lava crust?

Impact crater north of Pavonis Mons
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo on the right, cropped to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on April 23, 2019. It shows a quite intriguing impact crater on the northern lava slopes of Pavonis Mons, the middle volcano in the chain of three gigantic volcanoes to the west of Valles Marineris.

What makes this image cool is what the impact did when it hit. Note the circular depression just outside the crater’s rim. In the southeast quadrant that ring also includes a number of additional parallel and concentric depressions. Beyond the depression ground appears mottled, almost like splashed mud.

What could have caused this circular depression? Our first clue comes from the crater’s location, as shown in the overview map below and to the right.
» Read more

Io volcano erupts like Ol’ Faithful

Having determined that Io’s largest volcano appears to erupt on a regularly schedule, scientists have predicted that a new eruption should occur sometime in the next week or so.

The volcano Loki is expected to erupt in mid-September, 2019, according to a poster by Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist Julie Rathbun presented today.

“Loki is the largest and most powerful volcano on Io, so bright in the infrared that we can detect it using telescopes on the Earth,” Rathbun said. Based on more than 20 years of observations, Loki undergoes periodic brightenings when it erupts on a relatively regular schedule. In the 1990s, that schedule was approximately every 540 days. It currently appears to be approximately every 475 days. Rathbun discovered the 540-day periodicity, described in her 2002 paper “L. Loki, Io: A periodic volcano” that appeared in Geophysical Research Letters.

These same scientists successfully predicted Loki’s last eruption based on this data, but also warn that there is no guarantee the volcano will do what they say. As stock brokers are required to say, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

The many pits of Arsia Mons

The many pits of Arsia Mons

When it comes to Mars, it appears that if you want to find a pit that might be the entrance to an underground system, the place to look is on the slopes of Arsia Mons, the southernmost volcano in the chain of three giant volcanoes between Olympus Mons to the west and the vast canyon Marineris Valles to the east.

To the right is an overview map showing the pits that have been imaged since November by the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The black squares show the pits that I highlighted in previous posts on November 12, 2018, February 22, 2019, and April 2, 2019. The numbered white squares are the new pits found in March photograph release from MRO.

And this is only a tiny sampling. Scientists have identified more than a hundred such pits in this region. Dubbed atypical pit craters by scientists, they “generally have sharp and distinct rims, vertical or overhanging walls that extend down to their floors, surface diameters of ~50–350 m, and high depth to diameter (d/D) ratios” that are much greater than impact craters, facts that all suggest that these are skylights into more extensive lava tubes.

Below are the images of today’s four new pits.
» Read more

Volcanic vent between Arsia and Pavonis Monsa

volcanic vent on Mars

Cool image time. The photo on the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken in September by the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and was part of the November image release. Click on the image to see the entire photograph at full resolution.

The uncaptioned release dubs this feature as “Small Eruptive Vents South of Pavonis Mons.” In truth, these vent pits are located almost exactly the same distance from both Pavonis Mons, the middle volcano in the line of three giant Martian volcanoes, and Arsia Mons, the southernmost of the three.

The image is interesting for several reasons. First, note the bulge surrounding the vent, making this look almost like a miniature volcano all its own. In fact, that is probably what it is. When it was active that bulge was likely caused by that activity, though it is hard to say whether the bulge was caused by flow coming from out of the vent, or by pressure from below pushing upward to cause the ground to rise. It could even have been a combination of both.

To my eye, most of the bulge was probably caused from pressure from below pushing upward. The edge of the bulge does not look like the leading edge of a lava flow. Still, this probably happened so long ago that Martian wind erosion and dust could have obscured that leading edge.

That this is old is indicated by the dunelike ripples inside the large pit, and the pond of trapped dust in the smaller pit. Because of the thinness of the Martian atmosphere it takes time to gather that much dust, during which time no eruptions have occurred.

One more interesting detail: If you look at the pits in full resolution, you will see that, based on the asymmetrical wind patterns between the west and east rims, the prevailing winds here are from the west. Located as it is just to the east of the gigantic saddle between Arsia and Pavonis Mons, this wind orientation makes sense, as a saddle between mountains tends to concentrate the wind, much like a narrowed section in a river produces faster water flow and rapids. As for why the wind blows mostly from the west, my guess (which should not be taken very seriously) is that it is probably caused by the same meteorological phenomenon that causes this generally on Earth, the planet’s rotation.

More Pits on Mars!

Pits near Arsia Mons

Cool image time! In the November image release from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) were three images, dubbed by me in the collage above as number one, number two, and number three, showing pits south of Arsia Mons, the southernmost volcano in the chain of three giant volcanoes to the east of Mars’s largest volcano, Olympus Mons, and to the west of the Marineris Valles valley.

Mars overview showing pit locations

The image on the right provides the geographical context of the three pits. They are all south of the volcano on the vast lava flow plains that surround it. The location of pits #1 and #2 is especially intriguing, on the east and west edges of what appears to be a large lava flow that had burst out from the volcano, leaving a large lava field covering a vast area several hundred miles across just to the south. You can also see a similar large lava field to the north of the volcano. Both fields appear to have been formed when lava poured through the breaks created by the fault that cuts through the volcano from the northeast to the southwest.
» Read more

The epic lava flows of Olympus Mons

Lava flows off of Olympus Mons

The eruption of Kilauea volcano in Hawaii has garnered a lot of deserved press coverage, having added at least a 200 acres of new land and destroyed at least 700 homes. Similarly, the recent violent eruption of a volcano in Guatemala, killing 100 people in its wake, has also gotten much deserved news coverage.

The magnitude of both however would pale in comparison to the stupendous eruption that occurred several hundred million years ago at the solar system’s largest volcano, Olympus Mons on Mars. While Kilauea is about 100 miles across, Olympus Mons is about 370 miles wide, and is so large that because of the curvature of Mar’s surface it is literally impossible for a viewer on the ground to actually see the volcano, in its entirety.

Both volcanoes are shield volcanoes, however, which means the lava flows don’t necessarily come from the caldera, but often from vents on the volcano’s slopes. Eruptions might be violent, but they generally do not involve the powerful explosive force of the sudden eruption, as seen in Guatemala and at Mount St. Helens in 1980 in the U.S. Instead, the lava seeps out steadily and continuously, an unstoppable flow that steadily overwhelms the surrounding terrain.

Olympus Mons

The flows that created Olympus Mons however were an epic event probably lasting millions of years, which brings us to this post. In the June release of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter high resolution images, I found the image above, cropped and reduced in resolution to post here. It shows lava flowing down off one of the many escarpments on the slopes of Olympus Mons. This is not at the edge of the volcano’s shield, but just inside it. The map at the right, created using the archive of MRO’s high resolution camera, indicates the location of this flow, shown by the left light blue rectangle on the southeast slope of the volcano’s shield. The red rectangles show all the other images MRO has taken of Olympus Mons.

The scale of the MRO image above gives an indication of how big that eruption at Olympus Mons was.
» Read more

Exploring Arsia Mons

Master index

In November over a period of two weeks the Mars Odyssey team posted ten images of Pavonis Mons, the smallest of the aligned three giant volcanoes just to the east of Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the solar system. I then made all of those images available in a single link, with some analysis.

They have now done the same thing for the southernmost (and possibly the most interesting) of those three aligned volcanoes, Arsia Mons. From the first image below:

Arsia Mons is the southernmost of the Tharsis volcanoes. It is 270 miles (450km) in diameter, almost 12 miles (20km) high, and the summit caldera is 72 miles (120km) wide. For comparison, the largest volcano on Earth is Mauna Loa. From its base on the sea floor, Mauna Loa measures only 6.3 miles high and 75 miles in diameter. A large volcanic crater known as a caldera is located at the summit of all of the Tharsis volcanoes. These calderas are produced by massive volcanic explosions and collapse. The Arsia Mons summit caldera is larger than many volcanoes on Earth.

In other words, you could fit almost all of Mauna Loa entirely within the caldera of Arsia Mons.

The image on the right above is the master index, annotated by me to show the area covered by each image. The images can accessed individually below.
» Read more

Scientists catch a big volcano eruption on Io

Scientists reviewing twenty year old data from the Galileo orbiter that studied Jupiter and its moons in the 1990s have identified the most intense volcanic eruption yet found on Io.

While looking through the NIMS temperature data, Davies and his colleagues spotted a brief but intense moment of high temperatures that cooled oddly quickly. This signal showed up as a spike in heat from a region in the southern hemisphere called Marduk Fluctus. First, the researchers saw a heat signal jump to 4–10 times higher than background, or relatively normal, levels. Then just a minute later, the signal dropped about 20%. Another minute later, the signal dropped another 75%. Twenty-three minutes later, the signal had plummeted to the equivalent of the background levels.

This signature resembled nothing Davies had seen before from Io. The lava flows and lava lakes are familiar: Their heat signals peter out slowly because as the surface of a lava flow cools, it creates a protective barrier of solid rock over a mushy, molten inside. Heat from magma underneath conducts through this newly formed crust and radiates from Io’s surface as it cools, which can take quite a long time.

This new heat signature, on the other hand, represents a process never before seen on Io, Davies said: something intense, powerful, and—most important—fast.

There’s only one likely explanation for what the instruments saw, explained Davies, whose volcanic expertise starts here on Earth. Large, violent eruptions like those seen at Stromboli are capable of spewing huge masses of tiny particles into the air, which cool quickly.

The article makes it sound like we’ve never seen this kind of eruption on Io before, which isn’t really true. Such eruptions have been imaged, but this is the first time that infrared data of their temperature spike was captured, thus confirming its nature.

Exploring one of Mars’ giant volcanoes

Master index

For the past two weeks JPL’s image site has been releasing a string of images taken by Mars Odyssey of the smallest of Mars’ four giant volcanoes.

Pavonis Mons is one of the three aligned Tharsis Volcanoes. The four Tharsis volcanoes are Ascreaus Mons, Pavonis Mons, Arsia Mons, and Olympus Mars. All four are shield type volcanoes. Shield volcanoes are formed by lava flows originating near or at the summit, building up layers upon layers of lava. The Hawaiian islands on Earth are shield volcanoes. The three aligned volcanoes are located along a topographic rise in the Tharsis region. Along this trend there are increased tectonic features and additional lava flows. Pavonis Mons is the smallest of the four volcanoes, rising 14km above the mean Mars surface level with a width of 375km. It has a complex summit caldera, with the smallest caldera deeper than the larger caldera. Like most shield volcanoes the surface has a low profile. In the case of Pavonis Mons the average slope is only 4 degrees.

The image on the right is the context image, annotated by me to show where all these images were taken. The images can accessed individually below.

Each of these images has some interesting geological features, such as collapses, lava tubes, faults, and flow features. Meanwhile, the central calderas are remarkable smooth, with only a few craters indicating their relatively young age.

The most fascinating geological fact gleaned from these images is that they reveal a larger geological trend that runs through all of the three aligned giant volcanoes to the east of Olympus Mons.

The linear and sinuous features mark the locations of lava tubes and graben that occur on both sides of the volcano along a regional trend that passes thru Pavonis Mons, Ascreaus Mons (to the north), and Arsia Mons (to the south).

This trend probably also indicates the fundamental geology that caused all three volcanoes to align as they have.

Arsia Mons is of particular interest in that water clouds form periodically above its western slope, where there is also evidence of past glaciation. Scientists strongly suspect that there is a lot of water ice trapped underground here, possibly inside the many lava tubes that meander down its slopes. These facts also suggest that this might be one of the first places humans go to live, when they finally go to live on Mars.

A river canyon on Mars

A river on Mars

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced in resolution significantly to show here, was taken by the Themis camera on Mars Odyssey, and shows an unnamed canyon on Mars. Be sure to click on the image to see the full resolution version.

This canyon of course no longer has anything flowing in it. Moreover, it is not clear whether this was formed by water or lava. Unfortunately, the image is part of a series of “Art images” from Mars Odyssey, where they pick an image and suggest it looks like something else. In this case, they are claiming this looks like a “snake, slithering down the image.” Cute, but not very helpful. And unfortunately, they don’t add any further details at all about the image or its location. The context image suggests this canyon is next to a volcano.

After doing further research at the Themis image site, I was able to locate this image on Mars (using latitude 32.0515 and longitude 152.236 given at the link) and look at the images surrounding this one. Further research identified the volcano as Hecates Tholus in the Elyesium Plantia region to the west of Mars’s giant volcanoes.

Looking at all the nearby Mars Odyssey images, it appears that there are a lot of flows like this in this area, and all of them appear to be lava flows, with this one being the largest. A close look at the area just to the south of where the deep canyon opens out shows that the small surface flow draining into the canyon also appears to sit on much larger surface flows (at least two) that left the surface higher than the surrounding terrain.

Elyesium Plantia itself is a plateau, somewhat close to the border between Mars’s southern highlands and the northern plains where some scientists think an ocean might have once existed. Thus, it makes sense that the canyon drains north, as it is following the dip down to those northern low plains.

Active volcano on Venus?

The uncertainty of science: A new analysis of past data from a variety of Venus orbiters suggests that at least one volcano is active there.

The review of old data from the Magellan and Venus Express orbiters suggests that some lava flows on the volcano’s slopes are fresh, though how fresh remains unknown. However, computer models and the detection of excess heat by Venus Express on the mountain’s eastern slopes adds weight to the theory that the volcano is spewing out lava.

An ancient volcanic mountain chain on Mars

Using data from Mars Odyssey scientists have determined that a mountain chain on Mars was likely created as a chain of volcanoes.

They analyzed the geography and mineralogy of this area they termed Greater Thaumasia, which is about the size of North America. They also studied the chemistry of this area based on Gamma Ray Spectrometer data collected by the Mars Odyssey Orbiter, which was launched in 2001. What they found was the mountain ridge that outlines Greater Thaumasia was most likely created by a chain of volcanoes.

Their research also looked to see if water influenced the mountains’ formation and found no evidence for it. The mountain chain itself is south of the giant Valles Marineris canyons and southeast of the Tharsis region where Mars’ biggest four volcanoes are located.

Martian gullies not formed by water flow

The uncertainty of science: Spectroscopy of many of the gullies on Mars strongly suggests that water had nothing to do with their formation, even though these gullies resemble closely similar gullies on Earth that were carved by flowing water..

Color coding in light blue corresponds to surface composition of unaltered mafic material, of volcanic origin. Mafic material from the crater rim is carved and transported downslope along the gully channels. No hydrated minerals are observed within the gullies, in the data from CRISM, indicating limited interaction or no interaction of the mafic material with liquid water. These findings and related observations at about 100 other gully sites on Mars suggest that a mechanism not requiring liquid water may be responsible for carving these gullies on Mars. (Gullies on Mars are a different type of feature than seasonal dark streaks called recurring slope lineae or RSL; water in the form of hydrated salt has been identified at RSL sites.) [emphasis mine]

In other words, these gullies were formed by flowing lava, not water. Considering Mars’s lower gravity, one third that of Earth’s, we should not be surprised if lava is capable of doing things there that it is not generally capable of doing on Earth. In fact, we should remind ourselves constantly that Mars is an alien planet, and that conditions there are different enough to make any predictions based on our knowledge of Earth very unreliable.

More details here.

Dormant volcano near Rome reawakens

A volcano near Rome that last erupted 36,000 years ago is now showing signs of re-awakening.

Scientists previously assumed Colli Albani, a 15-kilometer (9-mile) semicircle of hills outside Rome, was an extinct volcano since there was no record of it having erupted in human history. But in recent years, scientists have observed new steam vents, earthquakes and a rise in ground level in the hills and surrounding area. These observations, along with new evidence of past eruptions and satellite data, indicate Colli Albani is starting a new eruptive cycle and could potentially erupt in 1,000 years from now, according to a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Increased earthquake activity at Mount St. Helens

Though the increase is not large enough to indicate the likelihood of another eruption, scientists have noted that for the past eight weeks the earthquake rates under Mount St. Helens has been increasing.

Over the last 8 weeks, there have been over 130 earthquakes formally located by the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and many more earthquakes too small to be located. The earthquakes have low magnitudes of 0.5 or less; the largest a magnitude 1.3. Earthquake rates have been steadily increasing since March, reaching nearly 40 located earthquakes per week. These earthquakes are too small to be felt at the surface.

Once again, these quakes do yet not signal another eruption. They are more likely signs of the mountain’s continuing but long and slow adjustment back to silence after the 1980 eruption. Nonetheless, they bear watching, as a volcano will do what a volcano wants to do.

Ice and volcanoes on ancient Mars?

New data of past volcanic activity on Mars suggest that the red planet was once covered by at least one extensive ice sheet.

There is a great deal of uncertainty in this conclusion, however. They have found one example with the right geology to suggest past ice sheets under which volcanoes erupted. Translating this into an extensive ice sheet requires many assumptions that might not prove true with further research.

Active lava flows found on Venus

volcanoes on Venus

Cool image time! Using archival data from Venus Express, scientists have identified several spots on Venus where it appears there are active lava flows.

Using a near-infrared channel of the spacecraft’s Venus Monitoring Camera (VMC) to map thermal emission from the surface through a transparent spectral window in the planet’s atmosphere, an international team of planetary scientists has spotted localised changes in surface brightness between images taken only a few days apart. “We have now seen several events where a spot on the surface suddenly gets much hotter, and then cools down again,” says Eugene Shalygin from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany, and lead author of the paper reporting the results in Geophysical Research Letters this month. “These four ‘hotspots’ are located in what are known from radar imagery to be tectonic rift zones, but this is the first time we have detected that they are hot and changing in temperature from day to day. It is the most tantalising evidence yet for active volcanism.”

The hotspots are found along the Ganiki Chasma rift zone close to the volcanoes Ozza Mons and Maat Mons. Rift zones are results of fracturing of the surface, which is often associated with upwelling of magma below the crust. This process can bring hot material to the surface, where it may be released through fractures as a lava flow.

There have been hints of volcanic activity on Venus since Pioneer Venus Orbiter first circled the planet from 1978 to 1992. This appears to be the first solid evidence of it.

Seismic data of Yellowstone has found a bigger second magma chamber

Geologists have mapped the existence of a second deeper and larger magma chamber under Yellowstone National Park.

Scientists had already known about a plume, which brings molten rock up from deep in the mantle to a region about 60 kilometers below the surface. And they had also imaged a shallow magma chamber about 10 kilometers below the surface, containing about 10,000 cubic kilometers of molten material. But now they have found a deeper one, 4.5 times larger, that sits between 20 and 50 kilometers below the surface. “They found the missing link between the mantle plume and the shallow magma chamber,” says Peter Cervelli, a geophysicist in Anchorage, Alaska, who works at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

The discovery does not, on its own, increase the chance of an eruption, which is driven by an emptying of the shallow chamber. The last major eruption was 640,000 years ago, and today the threat of earthquakes is far more likely. But the deeper chamber does mean that the shallow chamber can be replenished again and again. “Knowing that you have this additional reservoir tells you you could have a much bigger volume erupt over a relatively short time scale,” says co-author Victor Tsai, a geophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The discovery, reported online today in Science, also confirms a long-suspected model for some volcanoes, in which a deep chamber of melted basalt, a dense iron- and magnesium-rich rock, feeds a shallower chamber containing a melted, lighter silicon-rich rock called a rhyolite.

New data says volcanoes, not asteroids, killed dinosaurs

The uncertainty of science: A careful updating of the geological timeline has strengthened the link between the dinosaur extinction 66 million years ago and a major volcanic event at that time.

A primeval volcanic range in western India known as the Deccan Traps, which were once three times larger than France, began its main phase of eruptions roughly 250,000 years before the Cretaceous-Paleogene, or K-Pg, extinction event, the researchers report in the journal Science. For the next 750,000 years, the volcanoes unleashed more than 1.1 million cubic kilometers (264,000 cubic miles) of lava. The main phase of eruptions comprised about 80-90 percent of the total volume of the Deccan Traps’ lava flow and followed a substantially weaker first phase that began about 1 million years earlier.

The results support the idea that the Deccan Traps played a role in the K-Pg extinction, and challenge the dominant theory that a meteorite impact near present-day Chicxulub, Mexico, was the sole cause of the extinction. The researchers suggest that the Deccan Traps eruptions and the Chicxulub impact need to be considered together when studying and modeling the K-Pg extinction event.

The general public might not know it, but the only ones in the field of dinosaur research that have said the asteroid was the sole cause of the extinction have been planetary scientists.

Mapping the inside of Mt St. Helens

A new array of seismometers, combined with a series of planned explosions, will be used to map the interior of the Mt. St. Helens volcano to a depth of eighty kilometers or fifty miles.

To get the job done, starting next week roughly 65 people will fan out across the mountain to deploy 3,500 small seismometers along roads and back-country trails. They will drill 24 holes some 25 metres deep, drop in industrial explosives used for quarrying, and refill the holes (see ‘Under the dome’). The plan is to detonate the explosives in separate shots over four nights. Each blast will shake the ground as much as a magnitude-2 earthquake.

Results from the active blasts will be combined with the passive seismic part of the experiment, which is already under way: 70 larger seis­mometers around the mountain are measuring how long waves from natural earthquakes take to travel through the ground. Their data can be used to probe as far as 80 kilo­metres down, says Vidale.

Scientists think they have detected active volcanoes on Venus.

Scientists think they have detected active volcanoes on Venus.

We should hear more about this story in the next couple of days, after the scientists give their presentation at a science conference today. Note too that this result would only confirm other data, such as the fluctuating levels of sulfur in Venus’s atmosphere, that have suggested active volcanoes hidden under that planet’s thick cloud cover.

1 2 3