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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

13 - Geochemical exploration of planets: Moon and Mars as case studies

Summary

Overview

The exploration of other planets increasingly involves combining the detailed chemical analyses of samples (laboratory or in situ) with chemical mapping by orbiting spacecraft to provide geologic context. In this chapter, we illustrate this approach to exploration by reviewing what has been learned about the Moon and Mars.

Lunar surface materials (Apollo and Luna returned samples and lunar meteorites) are classified into three geochemical end members – anorthosite, mare basalt, and KREEP. These components are clearly associated with the various geochemically mapped terrains of different age on the lunar surface. The composition of the lunar interior is inferred from the geochemical characteristics of basalts that formed by mantle melting, and geochemistry provides constraints on the Moon's impact origin and differentiation via a magma ocean.

Martian meteorites and Mars rover analyses suggest that it is a basalt-covered world, a conclusion supported by orbital measurements. Basalts of different ages appear to have distinct compositions. Since its original differentiation, the Martian mantle has remained geochemically isolated, although it is periodically melted to produce basalts. The core has an appreciable amount of sulfide, as inferred from trace elements in basalts. Water, once important in producing clays and sulfates, has now retreated into the subsurface.

Why the Moon and Mars?

The Moon and Mars are the only large bodies for which we have both samples for laboratory analysis and considerable chemical data from orbiting and landed spacecraft. Both bodies have experienced melting and differentiation.

Suggestions for further reading
Bell, J. (2008) The Martian Surface: Composition, Mineralogy, and Physical Properties. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 636 pp. This up-to-date book contains excellent chapters on chemical analyses by Pathfinder and MER APXS, Mars Odyssey GRS analyses, Martian meteorites, and geochemical interpretations of rocks and soils.
Carr, M. (2006) The Surface of Mars. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 307 pp.
Solomon, S. C., plus 16 coauthors (2005) New perspectives on ancient Mars. Science, 307, 1214–1220.
Jolliff, B. L., Wieczorek, M. A., Shearer, C. K. and Neal, C. R., eds. (2006) New Views of the Moon, Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry60, Washington, D.C.: Mineralogical Society of America and Geochemical Society.
Taylor, S. R. and McLennan, S. M. (2009) Planetary Crusts: Their Composition, Origin and Evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 378 pp.
Wilhelms, D. E. (1987) The Geologic History of the Moon. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1348.
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