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Isotopic and petrographic evidence for young Martian basalts

Faculty Advisor




Mars, Martian meteorites, Extraterrestrial geology

Abstract (summary)

Radiometric age data for shergottites yield ages of 4.0 Ga and 180-575 Ma; the interpretation of these ages has been, and remains, a subject of debate. Here, we present new (super 39) Ar- (super 40) Ar laser probe data on lherzolitic shergottites Allan Hills (ALH) 77005 and Northwest Africa (NWA) 1950. These two meteorites are genetically related, but display very different degrees of shock damage. On a plot of (super 40) Ar/ (super 36) Ar versus (super 39) Ar/ (super 36) Ar, the more strongly shocked ALH 77005 (45-55 GPa) does not yield an array of values indicating an isochron, but the data are highly scattered with the shock melts yielding (super 40) Ar/ (super 36) Ar ratios of 1600-2026. Apparent ages calculated from these extractions range from 374-8183 Ma, with 50% of the data, particularly from the shock melts, yielding impossibly old ages (>4.567 Ga). On the same plot, extractions from igneous minerals in the less shocked NWA 1950 (30-44 GPa) yield a fitted age of 382 + or - 36 Ma. Argon extractions from the shock melts are well distinguished from minerals, with the melts exhibiting the highest (super 40) Ar/ (super 36) Ar ratios (1260-1488) and the oldest apparent ages. Laser step heating was also performed on maskelynite separates from NWA 1950 yielding ages of 1000 Ma at the lowest release temperatures, and ages of 360 and 362 Ma at higher temperature steps. Stepped heating data from previous studies have yielded ages of 500 and 700 Ma to 1.7 Ga for ALH 77005 maskelynite separates. If the ages obtained from igneous minerals represent undegassed argon from an ancient (4.0 Ga) rock, then the ages are expected to anticorrelate with the degree of shock heating. The data do not support this inference. Our data support young crystallization ages for minerals and Martian atmosphere as the origin of excess (super 40) Ar in the shock melts. The shock features of shergottites are also reviewed in the context of what is known of the geologic history of the Martian surface through remote observation. The oldest, most heavily cratered surfaces of Mars are thought to be > or =4.0 Ga; we contend that ancient rocks from Mars (Noachian >3.5 Ga) are likely to record multiple impact events reflecting megaregolith formation and the cumulative effects of erosion and aqueous alteration occurring during or since that era. Young rocks (Late Amazonian, <0.6 Ga) should record a relatively simple history of emplacement and ejection from the near surface. We show that although shergottites are strongly shocked, they are relatively pristine crystalline igneous rocks and not pervasively altered breccias. The petrography of shergottites is at odds with an ancient age interpretation. A model in which young coherent rocks are preferentially sampled by hypervelocity impact because of material strength is considered highly plausible.

Publication Information

Walton, E. L., Kelley, S. P., & Herd, C. K. (2008). Isotopic and petrographic evidence for young Martian basalts. Geochimica Et Cosmochimica Acta, 72(23), 5819-5837. doi:10.1016/j.gca.2008.09.005


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