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Differentiation of crusts and cores of the terrestrial planets: Lessons for the early Earth?

Precambrian Research
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/0301-9268(80)90011-x
  • Astronomy
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Science
  • Geography


Abstract It now appears probable that all of the terrestrial planets underwent some form of global chemical differentiation to produce crusts, mantles, and cores of variable relative mass fractions. There is direct seismic evidence for a crust on the Moon, and indirect evidence for distinct crusts on Mars and Venus. Substantial portions of these crusts have been in place since the time that heavy bombardment of the inner solar system ceased ∼ 4 Ga ago. There is direct evidence for a sizeable core on Mars, indirect evidence for one on Mercury, and bounds on a possible small core for the Moon. Core formation is an important heat source confined to times prior to 4 Ga ago for Mercury and the Earth, but was not closely linked to crustal formation on the Moon nor, apparently, on Mars. The tectonic and volcanic histories of the surfaces of the terrestrial planets Moon, Mars, and Mercury can be used, with simple thermal history models, to restrict the earliest chemical differentiation to be shallow (outer 200–400 km) for the first two bodies and much more extensive for Mercury. Extension of these models to an Earth-size planet leads to the prediction of a hot and vigorously convecting mantle with an easily deformable crust immediately following core formation, and of the gradual development of a lithosphere and of plates with some lateral rigidity in Late Archean—Proterozoic times.

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