According to the most widely accepted theories, the Moon formed about 4.5 billion years ago after a Mars-sized object (Theia) collided with Earth. After the resulting debris accreted to create the Earth-Moon system, the Moon spent many eons cooling down. This meant that a few billion years ago, lakes of lava were flowing across the surface of the Moon, which eventually hardened to form the vast dark patches (lunar maria) that are still there today.
Thanks to the samples of lunar rock brought back to Earth by China’s Chang’e 5 mission, scientists are learning more about how the Moon formed and evolved. According to a recent study led by the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences (CGAS), an international team examined these samples to investigate when volcanism on the Moon ended. Their results are not only filling in the gaps of the Moon’s geological history but also of other bodies in the Solar System.
Earth is a geologically active planet, which means it has plate tectonics and volcanic eruptions that have not ceased. This activity extends all the way to the core, where action between a liquid outer core and a solid inner core generates a planetary magnetic field. In comparison, Mars is an almost perfect example of a “stagnant lid” planet, where geological activity billions of years ago and the surface has remained stagnant ever since.
But as indicated by the many mountains on Mars, which includes the tallest in the Solar System (Olympus Mons), the planet was once a hotbed of volcanic activity. And according to a recent NASA-supported study, there is evidence that thousands of “super-eruptions” happened in the Arabia Terra region in northern Mars 4 billion years ago. These eruptions occurred over the course of 500-million years and had a drastic effect on the Martian climate.
You’ve probably seen stunning images of the night side of the Earth from space. Most people have seen the veritable constellations of city lights scattered familiarly across the continents, separated by wide oceans of darkness. You very well may have seen some stunning videos from the ISS showing the dynamic and mesmerizing ribbons of the polar aurorae and the even more frenetic flashes of nighttime lightning storms. If you’re a frequent reader of this site, you’ve likely even seen the effects of rolling blackouts during the catastrophic winter storms of February 2021 in Houston, as seen from space. Add another explosively extraordinary phenomenon to the list of nighttime space views; the March 2021 volcanic eruption in Iceland!.
At a fundamental level, Mars is a volcanic planet. Its surface is home to the Solar System’s largest extinct volcano, Olympus Mons, and another trio of well-known volcanoes at Tharsis Montes. And those are just the highlights: there are many other volcanoes on the surface. Though that volcanic activity ceased long ago, the planet’s surface tells the tale of a world disrupted and shaped by powerful volcanic eruptions.
One day, my Grade Nine science class got way more interesting.
Suddenly, volcanoes weren’t just something in textbooks. Though I was in neighbouring British Columbia when Mt. St. Helens erupted, there was still a layer of ash on our cars and everything else. For a teenager with a burgeoning interest in science, it was awesome.
In between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra lies the Sunda Strait. And in the Sunda Strait lies the much smaller island of Anak Krakatau, one of Earth’s active volcanoes. It’s erupted more than 50 times in the past 2,000 years, and now it’s doing it again.
200 million years ago, a mass extinction event wiped out about 76% of all species on Earth—both terrestrial and marine. That event was called the end-Triassic extinction, or the Jurassic-Triassic (J-T) extinction event. At that time, the world experienced many of the same things as Earth is facing now, including a warming climate and the acidification of the oceans.
A new paper shows that pulses of volcanic eruptions were responsible, and that those pulses released the same amount of CO2 as humans are releasing today.
Despite the similarities our world has with Venus, there is still much don’t know about Earth’s “Sister planet” and how it came to be. Thanks to its super-dense and hazy atmosphere, there are still unresolved questions about the planet’s geological history. For example, despite the fact that Venus’ surface is dominated by volcanic features, scientists have remained uncertain whether or not the planet is still volcanically active today.
While the planet is known to have been volcanically active as recent as 2.5 million years ago, no concrete evidence has been found that there are still volcanic eruptions on Venus’ surface. However, new research led by the USRA’s Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) has shown that Venus may still have active volcanoes, making it the only other planet in the Solar System (other than Earth) that is still volcanically active today.
A surtseyan eruption is a volcanic eruption in shallow water. It’s named after the island Surtsey, off the coast of iceland. In 2015, a surtseyan eruption in the Tongan Archipelago created the island Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai. Despite the odds, that island is still there almost five years later.