How Old are Rocks on Mars?
NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

How Old are Rocks on Mars?
ESP_020945_1690  Science Theme: Geologic Contacts/Stratigraphy
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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   (16 February 2011)



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Acquisition date:14 January 2011 Local Mars time: 3:36 PM
Latitude (centered):-10.774° Longitude (East):292.118°
Range to target site:264.8 km (165.5 miles)Original image scale range:53.0 cm/pixel (with 2 x 2 binning) so objects ~159 cm across are resolved
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Emission angle:5.0° Phase angle:47.7°
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For information about NASA and agency programs on the Web, visit: http://www.nasa.gov. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft. The HiRISE camera was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation and is operated by the University of Arizona. The image data were processed using the U.S. Geological Survey’s ISIS3 software.