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How Old are Rocks on Mars
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How Old are Rocks on Mars?

February 21, 2011
Some of the largest landslides known in the Solar System have happened on Mars. These are interesting phenomena, but they also sometimes produce excellent exposures of the bedrock geology, in cross-sectional views. The purpose of this image was to view bedrock exposures at a deep level in Valles Marineris.

We have only a vague idea how old these rocks are. Crater counts date landscapes, and clearly this is a young landscape with very few impact craters due to the continual mass wasting (landslides) of the steep slopes. The rocks are much older--probably older than the plateaus surrounding Valles Marineris (2 to 3 billion years based on the large craters), unless these are intrusive rocks emplaced later from migrating magma. We need radiometric age dating, either on Mars or from returned samples, to measure the age of igneous (volcanic or plutonic) rock layers within the strata.

The age of sedimentary layers such as river or lake deposits can be bracketed by the ages of overlying and underlying igneous layers. Not knowing the absolute ages of bedrock units on Mars is a huge limitation to our understanding of the geologic history.

Written by: Alfred McEwen


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