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Concept: Impact crater


Establishing the age of the Moon is critical to understanding solar system evolution and the formation of rocky planets, including Earth. However, despite its importance, the age of the Moon has never been accurately determined. We present uranium-lead dating of Apollo 14 zircon fragments that yield highly precise, concordant ages, demonstrating that they are robust against postcrystallization isotopic disturbances. Hafnium isotopic analyses of the same fragments show extremely low initial (176)Hf/(177)Hf ratios corrected for cosmic ray exposure that are near the solar system initial value. Our data indicate differentiation of the lunar crust by 4.51 billion years, indicating the formation of the Moon within the first ~60 million years after the birth of the solar system.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Solar System, Moon, Dwarf planet, Venus, Io, Impact crater


Random bombardment by comets, asteroids and associated fragments form and alter the lunar regolith and other rocky surfaces. The accumulation of impact craters over time is of fundamental use in evaluating the relative ages of geologic units. Crater counts and radiometric ages from returned samples provide constraints with which to derive absolute model ages for unsampled units on the Moon and other Solar System objects. However, although studies of existing craters and returned samples offer insight into the process of crater formation and the past cratering rate, questions still remain about the present rate of crater production, the effect of early-stage jetting during impacts and the influence that distal ejecta have on the regolith. Here we use Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) temporal (‘before and after’) image pairs to quantify the contemporary rate of crater production on the Moon, to reveal previously unknown details of impact-induced jetting, and to identify a secondary impact process that is rapidly churning the regolith. From this temporal dataset, we detected 222 new impact craters and found 33 per cent more craters (with diameters of at least ten metres) than predicted by the standard Neukum production and chronology functions for the Moon. We identified broad reflectance zones associated with the new craters that we interpret as evidence of a surface-bound jetting process. We also observe a secondary cratering process that we estimate churns the top two centimetres of regolith on a timescale of 81,000 years-more than a hundred times faster than previous models estimated from meteoritic impacts (ten million years).

Concepts: Solar System, Mars, Moon, Regolith, Impact crater, Apollo 11, Comet, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter


Mars hosts the solar system’s largest volcanoes. Although their size and impact crater density indicate continued activity over billions of years, their formation rates are poorly understood. Here we quantify the growth rate of a Martian volcano by (40)Ar/(39)Ar and cosmogenic exposure dating of six nakhlites, meteorites that were ejected from Mars by a single impact event at 10.7 ± 0.8 Ma (2σ). We find that the nakhlites sample a layered volcanic sequence with at least four discrete eruptive events spanning 93 ± 12 Ma (1416 ± 7 Ma to 1322 ± 10 Ma (2σ)). A non-radiogenic trapped (40)Ar/(36)Ar value of 1511 ± 74 (2σ) provides a precise and robust constraint for the mid-Amazonian Martian atmosphere. Our data show that the nakhlite-source volcano grew at a rate of ca. 0.4-0.7 m Ma(-1)-three orders of magnitude slower than comparable volcanoes on Earth, and necessitating that Mars was far more volcanically active earlier in its history.Mars hosts the solar system’s largest volcanoes, but their formation rates remain poorly constrained. Here, the authors have measured the crystallization and ejection ages of meteorites from a Martian volcano and find that its growth rate was much slower than analogous volcanoes on Earth.

Concepts: Earth, Solar System, Mars, Venus, Io, Impact crater, Asteroid, Olympus Mons


Large impacts provide a mechanism for resurfacing planets through mixing near-surface rocks with deeper material. Central peaks are formed from the dynamic uplift of rocks during crater formation. As crater size increases, central peaks transition to peak rings. Without samples, debate surrounds the mechanics of peak-ring formation and their depth of origin. Chicxulub is the only known impact structure on Earth with an unequivocal peak ring, but it is buried and only accessible through drilling. Expedition 364 sampled the Chicxulub peak ring, which we found was formed from uplifted, fractured, shocked, felsic basement rocks. The peak-ring rocks are cross-cut by dikes and shear zones and have an unusually low density and seismic velocity. Large impacts therefore generate vertical fluxes and increase porosity in planetary crust.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Petroleum, Solar System, Planet, Bulk density, Venus, Granite, Impact crater


Experimental data are shown for survival of fossilized diatoms undergoing shocks in the GPa range. The results were obtained from hypervelocity impact experiments which fired fossilized diatoms frozen in ice into water targets. After the shots, the material recovered from the target water was inspected for diatom fossils. Nine shots were carried out, at speeds from 0.388 to 5.34 km s(-1), corresponding to mean peak pressures of 0.2-19 GPa. In all cases, fragmented fossilized diatoms were recovered, but both the mean and the maximum fragment size decreased with increasing impact speed and hence peak pressure. Examples of intact diatoms were found after the impacts, even in some of the higher speed shots, but their frequency and size decreased significantly at the higher speeds. This is the first demonstration that fossils can survive and be transferred from projectile to target in hypervelocity impacts, implying that it is possible that, as suggested by other authors, terrestrial rocks ejected from the Earth by giant impacts from space, and which then strike the Moon, may successfully transfer terrestrial fossils to the Moon.

Concepts: Earth, Moon, Physical quantities, Pressure, Velocity, Projectile, Impact crater, Hypervelocity


It has been proposed that fragments of an asteroid or comet impacted Earth, deposited silica- and iron-rich microspherules and other proxies across several continents, and triggered the Younger Dryas cooling episode 12,900 years ago. Although many independent groups have confirmed the impact evidence, the hypothesis remains controversial because some groups have failed to do so. We examined sediment sequences from 18 dated Younger Dryas boundary (YDB) sites across three continents (North America, Europe, and Asia), spanning 12,000 km around nearly one-third of the planet. All sites display abundant microspherules in the YDB with none or few above and below. In addition, three sites (Abu Hureyra, Syria; Melrose, Pennsylvania; and Blackville, South Carolina) display vesicular, high-temperature, siliceous scoria-like objects, or SLOs, that match the spherules geochemically. We compared YDB objects with melt products from a known cosmic impact (Meteor Crater, Arizona) and from the 1945 Trinity nuclear airburst in Socorro, New Mexico, and found that all of these high-energy events produced material that is geochemically and morphologically comparable, including: (i) high-temperature, rapidly quenched microspherules and SLOs; (ii) corundum, mullite, and suessite (Fe(3)Si), a rare meteoritic mineral that forms under high temperatures; (iii) melted SiO(2) glass, or lechatelierite, with flow textures (or schlieren) that form at > 2,200 °C; and (iv) particles with features indicative of high-energy interparticle collisions. These results are inconsistent with anthropogenic, volcanic, authigenic, and cosmic materials, yet consistent with cosmic ejecta, supporting the hypothesis of extraterrestrial airbursts/impacts 12,900 years ago. The wide geographic distribution of SLOs is consistent with multiple impactors.

Concepts: Impact event, North America, Meteorite, Impact crater, Younger Dryas, Asteroid, Natufian culture, Comet


Firestone et al. sampled sedimentary sequences at many sites across North America, Europe, and Asia [Firestone RB, et al. (2007) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106:16016-16021]. In sediments dated to the Younger Dryas onset or Boundary (YDB) approximately 12,900 calendar years ago, Firestone et al. reported discovery of markers, including nanodiamonds, aciniform soot, high-temperature melt-glass, and magnetic microspherules attributed to cosmic impacts/airbursts. The microspherules were explained as either cosmic material ablation or terrestrial ejecta from a hypothesized North American impact that initiated the abrupt Younger Dryas cooling, contributed to megafaunal extinctions, and triggered human cultural shifts and population declines. A number of independent groups have confirmed the presence of YDB spherules, but two have not. One of them [Surovell TA, et al. (2009) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:18155-18158] collected and analyzed samples from seven YDB sites, purportedly using the same protocol as Firestone et al., but did not find a single spherule in YDB sediments at two previously reported sites. To examine this discrepancy, we conducted an independent blind investigation of two sites common to both studies, and a third site investigated only by Surovell et al. We found abundant YDB microspherules at all three widely separated sites consistent with the results of Firestone et al. and conclude that the analytical protocol employed by Surovell et al. deviated significantly from that of Firestone et al. Morphological and geochemical analyses of YDB spherules suggest they are not cosmic, volcanic, authigenic, or anthropogenic in origin. Instead, they appear to have formed from abrupt melting and quenching of terrestrial materials.

Concepts: Scientific method, United States, Sedimentary rock, Hypothesis, North America, Impact crater, Younger Dryas, Abrupt climate change


Asteroid 4 Vesta seems to be a major intact protoplanet, with a surface composition similar to that of the HED (howardite-eucrite-diogenite) meteorites. The southern hemisphere is dominated by a giant impact scar, but previous impact models have failed to reproduce the observed topography. The recent discovery that Vesta’s southern hemisphere is dominated by two overlapping basins provides an opportunity to model Vesta’s topography more accurately. Here we report three-dimensional simulations of Vesta’s global evolution under two overlapping planet-scale collisions. We closely reproduce its observed shape, and provide maps of impact excavation and ejecta deposition. Spiral patterns observed in the younger basin Rheasilvia, about one billion years old, are attributed to Coriolis forces during crater collapse. Surface materials exposed in the north come from a depth of about 20 kilometres, according to our models, whereas materials exposed inside the southern double-excavation come from depths of about 60-100 kilometres. If Vesta began as a layered, completely differentiated protoplanet, then our model predicts large areas of pure diogenites and olivine-rich rocks. These are not seen, possibly implying that the outer 100 kilometres or so of Vesta is composed mainly of a basaltic crust (eucrites) with ultramafic intrusions (diogenites).

Concepts: Mars, Depth perception, Impact event, Basalt, Impact crater, 2 Pallas, 4 Vesta, Planetesimal


Several irregularly shaped craters located within Arabia Terra, Mars, represent a new type of highland volcanic construct and together constitute a previously unrecognized Martian igneous province. Similar to terrestrial supervolcanoes, these low-relief paterae possess a range of geomorphic features related to structural collapse, effusive volcanism and explosive eruptions. Extruded lavas contributed to the formation of enigmatic highland ridged plains in Arabia Terra. Outgassed sulphur and erupted fine-grained pyroclastics from these calderas probably fed the formation of altered, layered sedimentary rocks and fretted terrain found throughout the equatorial region. The discovery of a new type of volcanic construct in the Arabia volcanic province fundamentally changes the picture of ancient volcanism and climate evolution on Mars. Other eroded topographic basins in the ancient Martian highlands that have been dismissed as degraded impact craters should be reconsidered as possible volcanic constructs formed in an early phase of widespread, disseminated magmatism on Mars.

Concepts: Earth, Mars, Igneous rock, Rock, Volcano, Impact crater, Geomorphology, Lava


High-pressure minerals in meteorites provide clues for the impact processes that excavated, launched and delivered these samples to Earth. Most Martian meteorites are suggested to have been excavated from 3 to 7 km diameter impact craters. Here we show that the Tissint meteorite, a 2011 meteorite fall, contains virtually all the high-pressure phases (seven minerals and two mineral glasses) that have been reported in isolated occurrences in other Martian meteorites. Particularly, one ringwoodite (75 × 140 μm(2)) represents the largest grain observed in all Martian samples. Collectively, the ubiquitous high-pressure minerals of unusually large sizes in Tissint indicate that shock metamorphism was widely dispersed in this sample (~25 GPa and ~2,000 °C). Using the size and growth kinetics of the ringwoodite grains, we infer an initial impact crater with ~90 km diameter, with a factor of 2 uncertainty. These energetic conditions imply alteration of any possible low-T minerals in Tissint.

Concepts: Mars, Impact event, Meteorite, Impact crater, Olivine, Mars meteorite, Meteor Crater