Ancient volcano on Mars once erupted for 2 billion years straight

If it feels like your week has been dragging on forever, consider this — a volcano on Mars once erupted for 2 billion years straight, which is nearly half of the planet's 4.5 billion-year lifetime.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances describes how scientists were able to discern said time frame based on a 6.9-oz martian meteorite, labeled Northwest Africa (NWA) 7635, found in Algeria in 2012.

Marc Caffee, a professor of physics and astronomy at Purdue University, classified NWA 7635 in the same group as 10 other martian meteorites found on Earth that had all endured similar years of exposure to cosmic rays (1.1 million years.)

"What we interpret from that is that all 11 [meteorites] were knocked off Mars at the same time," Caffee said in a press release.

Although these martian rocks began their journey to Earth around the same time, scientists discovered that they were formed at extremely different times.

While meteorites in the same family as NWA 7635 were all dated about 500 million years old — meaning they were formed from cooling magma on the surface of Mars circa half a billion years ago — this particular meteorite was dated about 2.4 billion years old, meaning it was formed by the same volcano almost 2 billion years later.

"What this means is that for 2 billion years there's been sort of a steady plume of magma in one location on the surface of Mars," Caffee said. "We don't have anything like that on Earth, where something is that stable for 2 billion years at a specific location."

Mars is home to some of the biggest volcanoes in our solar system. The largest is Olympus Mon, which is a similar volcano type to those found in Hawaii — only much bigger.

Despite the abundance of volcanoes on Mars, scientists aren't yet sure which ones this particular meteorite came from.

RELATED: Check out 11 bizarre things the Mars Orbiter has spotted:

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11 bizarre things the Mars Orbiter has spotted
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11 bizarre things the Mars Orbiter has spotted

1. Water may (sometimes) flow

The MRO has provided the most convincing evidence yet that small amounts of extremely salty liquid water may still flow on the surface of Mars. 

The orbiter found that some ice may melt as the red planet warms during particular seasons, allowing the liquid to run down hills, creating streaks on the Martian surface.

Photo courtesy: IMAGE: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UNIV. OF ARIZON

2. Other spacecraft on the planet

The MRO has also kept an eye on other spacecraft that are exploring Mars from the surface.

The orbiter has snapped photos of the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers from its post above the planet. The MRO even caught sight of Curiosity as it descended to its landing spot via parachute.

Photo courtesy: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UA

3. Potential landing sites for new missions

The MRO has also scouted out new landing sites for other missions to Mars. Most recently, scientists have used the spacecraft's data to map out possible landing targets for a human mission to Mars.

Photo courtesy: JPL

4. Fresh craters

The MRO has also treated scientists to views of relatively fresh craters on Mars. 

One crater -- which appeared in photos in 2010 -- was not in images taken in 2008, meaning that whatever impact created the crater happened in between those years.

Photo courtesy: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UA

5. A possible supervolcano

Thanks to data beamed back to Earth from the MRO, scientists now think that there might be a supervolcano lurking beneath the surface of a very old crater on Mars' surface.

"On Mars, young volcanoes have a very distinctive appearance that allows us to identify them," scientist Joseph Michalski, said in a statement in 2013. 

"The longstanding question has been what ancient volcanoes on Mars look like. Perhaps they look like this one," he said.

Photo courtesy: NASA/JPL/GODDARD (LEFT) AND ESA (RIGHT)

6. A dust devil spotted

The MRO also captured an incredible image of a 12-mile-high dust devil swirling on the red planet in 2012. 

While the Martian atmosphere is thinner than Earth's, wind can still whip up dust storms and dust devils on the planet, according to NASA.

Photo courtesy: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UA

7. Martian sand dunes

The MRO has also snapped photos of fields of sand dunes on Mars, which change shape according to which way the wind blows from season to season.

At the moment, the Curiosity rover is exploring some of these martian sand dunes for the first time, investigating the sand of the red planet from close range.

Photo courtesy: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UA

8. An avalanche

One particularly incredible photo taken in August 2015 shows an avalanche of frost falling off a scarp. The orbiter managed to catch the avalanche at the exact moment the frost was falling.

Photo courtesy: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UA

9. Phobos and Deimos

The MRO doesn't only have eyes for Mars. 

The spacecraft has also taken some stunning photos of the red planet's moons, Phobos and Deimos, giving people on Earth a sense of the strange color of the oddly shaped moons.

Photo courtesy: NASA

9. Phobos and Deimos

The MRO doesn't only have eyes for Mars. 

The spacecraft has also taken some stunning photos of the red planet's moons, Phobos and Deimos, giving people on Earth a sense of the strange color of the oddly shaped moons.

Photo courtesy: NASA

10. A tumbling boulder

After 10 years in orbit, the MRO has definitely seen some weird stuff on the world's surface. 

One of those strange sights was the path left by an oddly shaped boulder rolling down a slope. The MRO caught some images of the tumbling rock in 2014, even spotting the area where it landed upright.

Photo courtesy: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UA

11. Frozen carbon dioxide

The MRO's imager also spotted gullies of frost on Martian plains, which look somewhat like the patterns deltas carve on the surface of Earth.

Photo courtesy: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UA

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has clocked more than a decade of service at the Red Planet and has yielded scientific discoveries and magnificent views of a distant world. These images taken by MRO's HiRISE camera are not in true color because they include infrared information in order to be optimized for geological science. For more info about MRO go to: http://www.nasa.gov/mro
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