Decline of giant impacts on Mars by 4.48 billion years ago and an early opportunity for habitability

D. E. Moser, G. A. Arcuri, D. A. Reinhard, L. F. White, J. R. Darling, I. R. Barker, D. J. Larson, A. J. Irving, F. M. McCubbin, K. T. Tait, J. Roszjar, A. Wittmann & C. Davis

Nature Geoscience (2019)
Published: 24 June 2019


Supplementary information

“The timing of the wane in heavy meteorite bombardment of the inner planets is debated. Its timing determines the onset of crustal conditions consistently below the thermal and shock pressure limits for microbiota survival, and so bounds the occurrence of conditions that allow planets to be habitable. Here we determine this timing for Mars by examining the metamorphic histories of the oldest known Martian minerals, 4.476–4.429-Gyr-old zircon and baddeleyite grains in meteorites derived from the southern highlands. We use electron microscopy and atom probe tomography to show that none of these grains were exposed to the life-limiting shock pressure of 78 GPa. 97% of the grains exhibit weak-to-no shock metamorphic features and no thermal overprints from shock-induced melting. By contrast, about 80% of the studied grains from bombarded crust on Earth and the Moon show such features. The giant impact proposed to have created Mars’ hemispheric dichotomy must, therefore, have taken place more than 4.48 Gyr ago, with no later cataclysmic bombardments. Considering thermal habitability models, we conclude that portions of Mars’ crust reached habitable pressures and temperatures by 4.2 Gyr ago, the onset of the Martian ‘wet’ period, about 0.5 Gyr earlier than the earliest known record of life on Earth. Early abiogenesis by 4.2 Gyr ago, is now tenable for both planets.”