Accretion Timescale and Impact History of Mars Deduced from the Isotopic Systematics of Martian Meteorites

Lars E. Borg, Gregory A. Brennecka, Steven J.K. Symes

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
In Press, Accepted Manuscript, Available online 12 December 2015


Update (24 June 2016):

Evolution of the Solar System Inferred from Sm-Nd Isotopic Studies
SETI Weekly Colloquium, Tuesday, June 14 2016 – 12:00 pm, PDT

article abstract:
“High precision Sm−Nd isotopic analyses have been completed on a suite of 11 martian basaltic meteorites in order to better constrain the age of silicate differentiation on Mars associated with the formation of their mantle sources. These data are used to evaluate the merits and disadvantages of various mathematical approaches that have been employed in previous work on this topic. Ages determined from the Sm−Nd isotopic systematics of individual samples are strongly dependent on the assumed Nd isotopic composition of the bulk planet. This assumption is problematic given differences observed between the Nd isotopic composition of Earth and chondritic meteorites and the fact that these materials are both commonly used to represent bulk planetary Nd isotopic compositions. Ages determined from the slope of 146Sm−142Nd whole rock isochrons are not dependent on the assumed 142Nd/144Nd ratio of the planet, but require the sample suite to be derived from complementary, contemporaneously-formed reservoirs. In this work, we present a mathematical expression that defines the age of formation of the source regions of such a suite of samples that is based solely on the slope of a 143Nd−142Nd whole rock isochron and is also is independent of any a priori assumptions regarding the bulk isotopic composition of the planet. This expression is also applicable to mineral isochrons and has been used to successfully calculate 143Nd−142Nd model crystallization ages of early refractory solids as well as lunar samples. This permits ages to be obtained using only Nd isotopic measurements without the need for 147Sm/144Nd isotope dilution determinations. When used in conjunction with high-precision Nd isotopic measurements completed on martian meteorites this expression yields an age of formation of the martian basaltic meteorite source regions of 4504 ± 6 Ma. Because the Sm−Nd model ages for the formation of martian source regions are commonly interpreted to record the age at which large scale mantle reservoirs formed during planetary differentiation associated with magma ocean solidification, the age determined here implies that magma ocean solidification occurred several tens of millions of years after the beginning of the Solar System. Recent thermal models, however, suggest that Mars-sized bodies cool rapidly in less than ∼5 Ma after accretion ceases, even in the presence of a thick atmosphere. Assuming these models are correct, an extended period of accretion is necessary to provide a mechanism to keep portions of the martian mantle partially molten until 4504 Ma. Late accretional heating of Mars could either be associated with protracted accretion occurring at a quasi-steady state or alternatively be associated with a late giant impact. If this scenario is correct, then accretion of Mars-sized bodies takes up to 60 Ma and is likely to be contemporaneous with the core formation and possibly the onset of silicate differentiation. This further challenges the concept that isotopic equilibrium is attained during primordial evolution of planets, and may help to account for geochemical evidence implying addition of material into planetary interiors after core formation was completed.”