Onset of magma ocean solidification on Mars inferred from Mn-Cr chronometry

S. Kruijer, Lars E. Borg, Josh Wimpenny, Corliss K. Sio

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Available online 7 May 2020, 116315



• There are no resolvable radiogenic 53Cr variations among martian meteorites.
• Mantle differentiation on Mars occurred >20 Ma after Solar System formation.
• Mantle solidification on Mars started >5 Ma after core formation.
• Inferred longevity of the martian magma ocean is inconsistent with thermal models.
• An insulating early atmosphere on Mars may solve this discrepancy.”

“The mantle of Mars probably differentiated through the crystallization of a magma ocean during the first tens of million years (Ma) of Solar System evolution. However, the exact timescale of large-scale silicate differentiation of the martian mantle is debated, and in particular, it remains unclear when differentiation commenced. Here we applied the short-lived 53Mn-53Cr system to martian meteorites in order to date the onset of large-scale mantle differentiation on Mars. The new Cr isotope data demonstrate that martian meteorites exhibit no resolvable radiogenic 53Cr variations, and instead have a uniform +20.3±1.4 (95% conf.) parts-per-million excess in 53Cr/52Cr relative to the terrestrial mantle. The investigated group of martian meteorites are lithologically varied and derive from diverse mantle sources that probably had variable Mn/Cr. Hence, the lack of 53Cr variability among martian meteorites demonstrates that silicate differentiation on Mars occurred after the extinction of 53Mn. Provided that the sources of the martian meteorites have Mn/Cr variations that are typical of the terrestrial planets, this result implies that the onset of large-scale silicate differentiation must have occurred later than 20±5 Ma after Solar System formation. The onset of silicate differentiation on Mars inferred here is significantly later than time estimates for segregation of the martian core which conservatively occurred within <10 Ma after Solar System formation. Thus, the new Mn-Cr data imply that there was a small, but resolvable, time gap of at least 5 Ma between core formation and magma ocean solidification on Mars. If the age of core segregation is taken at face value, our results imply that the martian magma ocean remained mostly molten over several Ma. This inferred longevity of the magma ocean is inconsistent with thermal models predicting rapid (<1 Ma) solidification of the martian magma ocean. Although there is currently no unique solution to this conundrum, our results can potentially be explained by a protracted history of impact bombardment that delayed differentiation in a shallow magma ocean on Mars, or perhaps more readily, by the presence of an early and dense atmosphere that acted as an insulator and prevented the magma ocean from cooling quickly.”