Concept: Mars meteorite
The timing and nature of igneous activity recorded at a single Mars ejection site can be determined from the isotope analyses of Martian meteorites. Northwest Africa (NWA) 7635 has an Sm-Nd crystallization age of 2.403 ± 0.140 billion years, and isotope data indicate that it is derived from an incompatible trace element-depleted mantle source similar to that which produced a geochemically distinct group of 327- to 574-million-year-old “depleted” shergottites. Cosmogenic nuclide data demonstrate that NWA 7635 was ejected from Mars 1.1 million years ago (Ma), as were at least 10 other depleted shergottites. The shared ejection age is consistent with a common ejection site for these meteorites. The spatial association of 327- to 2403-Ma depleted shergottites indicates >2 billion years of magmatism from a long-lived and geochemically distinct volcanic center near the ejection site.
We report data on the martian meteorite, Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034, which shares some petrologic and geochemical characteristics with known martian (SNC, i.e., Shergottite, Nakhlite, and Chassignite) meteorites, but also possesses some unique characteristics that would exclude it from the current SNC grouping. NWA 7034 is a geochemically enriched crustal rock compositionally similar to basalts and average martian crust measured by recent rover and orbiter missions. It formed 2.089 ± 0.081 Ga, during the early Amazonian epoch in Mars' geologic history. NWA 7034 has an order of magnitude more indigenous water than most SNC meteorites, with up to 6000 ppm extraterrestrial H(2)O released during stepped heating. It also has bulk oxygen isotope values of Δ(17)O = 0.58 ± 0.05‰ and a heat-released water oxygen isotope average value of Δ(17)O = 0.330 ± 0.011‰, suggesting the existence of multiple oxygen reservoirs on Mars.
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.
Absolute ages for planetary surfaces are often inferred by crater densities and only indirectly constrained by the ages of meteorites. We show that the <5 million-year-old and 55-km-wide Mojave Crater is the ejection source for the meteorites classified as shergottites. Shergottites and this crater are linked by their coinciding meteorite ejection ages and the crater formation age, and mineralogical constraints. Because Mojave formed on 4.3 billion year old terrain, the original crystallization ages of shergottites are old, as inferred by Pb-Pb isotope ratios, and the much-quoted <600 million years shergottite ages are due to resetting. Thus, the cratering-based age determination method for Mars is now calibrated in situ, and shifts the absolute age of the oldest terrains of Mars backward by 200 million years.
Tissint (Morocco) is the fifth martian meteorite collected after it was witnessed falling to Earth. Our integrated mineralogical, petrological, and geochemical study shows that it is a depleted picritic shergottite similar to EETA79001A. Highly magnesian olivine and abundant glass containing martian atmosphere are present in Tissint. Refractory trace element, sulfur, and fluorine data for the matrix and glass veins in the meteorite indicate the presence of a martian surface component. Thus, the influence of in situ martian weathering can be unambiguously distinguished from terrestrial contamination in this meteorite. Martian weathering features in Tissint are compatible with the results of spacecraft observations of Mars. Tissint has a cosmic-ray exposure age of 0.7 ± 0.3 million years, consistent with those of many other shergottites, notably EETA79001, suggesting that they were ejected from Mars during the same event.
Invaluable records of planetary dynamics and evolution can be recovered from the geochemical systematics of single meteorites. However, the interpreted ages of the ejected igneous crust of Mars differ by up to four billion years, a conundrum due in part to the difficulty of using geochemistry alone to distinguish between the ages of formation and the ages of the impact events that launched debris towards Earth. Here we solve the conundrum by combining in situ electron-beam nanostructural analyses and U-Pb (uranium-lead) isotopic measurements of the resistant micromineral baddeleyite (ZrO2) and host igneous minerals in the highly shock-metamorphosed shergottite Northwest Africa 5298 (ref. 8), which is a basaltic Martian meteorite. We establish that the micro-baddeleyite grains pre-date the launch event because they are shocked, cogenetic with host igneous minerals, and preserve primary igneous growth zoning. The grains least affected by shock disturbance, and which are rich in radiogenic Pb, date the basalt crystallization near the Martian surface to 187 ± 33 million years before present. Primitive, non-radiogenic Pb isotope compositions of the host minerals, common to most shergottites, do not help us to date the meteorite, instead indicating a magma source region that was fractionated more than four billion years ago to form a persistent reservoir so far unique to Mars. Local impact melting during ejection from Mars less than 22 ± 2 million years ago caused the growth of unshocked, launch-generated zircon and the partial disturbance of baddeleyite dates. We can thus confirm the presence of ancient, non-convecting mantle beneath young volcanic Mars, place an upper bound on the interplanetary travel time of the ejected Martian crust, and validate a new approach to the geochronology of the inner Solar System.
The geochemistry of Martian meteorites provides a wealth of information about the solid planet and the surface and atmospheric processes that occurred on Mars. The degree to which Martian magmas may have assimilated crustal material, thus altering the geochemical signatures acquired from their mantle sources, is unclear. This issue features prominently in efforts to understand whether the source of light rare-earth elements in enriched shergottites lies in crustal material incorporated into melts or in mixing between enriched and depleted mantle reservoirs. Sulphur isotope systematics offer insight into some aspects of crustal assimilation. The presence of igneous sulphides in Martian meteorites with sulphur isotope signatures indicative of mass-independent fractionation suggests the assimilation of sulphur both during passage of magmas through the crust of Mars and at sites of emplacement. Here we report isotopic analyses of 40 Martian meteorites that represent more than half of the distinct known Martian meteorites, including 30 shergottites (28 plus 2 pairs, where pairs are separate fragments of a single meteorite), 8 nakhlites (5 plus 3 pairs), Allan Hills 84001 and Chassigny. Our data provide strong evidence that assimilation of sulphur into Martian magmas was a common occurrence throughout much of the planet’s history. The signature of mass-independent fractionation observed also indicates that the atmospheric imprint of photochemical processing preserved in Martian meteoritic sulphide and sulphate is distinct from that observed in terrestrial analogues, suggesting fundamental differences between the dominant sulphur chemistry in the atmosphere of Mars and that in the atmosphere of Earth.