Science Seminars

2/4/2016- Bill Bottke; The Calm Before the Storm: Exploring the Post Accretionary Doldrums Prior to the Late Heavy Bombardment

Speaker: Bill Bottke (SwRI)
Date: Tuesday, Feb 04, 2020
Time: 4:00 PM
Location: LSTB 299

Seminar Abstract:

The early bombardment of the inner solar system played a critical role in planetary evolution, but there is still considerable uncertainty about what happened when. Dynamical models suggest two major bombardment phases may have taken place: (i) a post-accretionary period where newly-formed worlds were struck by leftover planetesimals, and (ii) a late heavy bombardment period, possibly produced by conditions related to a violent reshuffling of the planets ~4.1-4.2 Gyr ago (Ga). If valid, a relative impact lull took place between the two bombardment phases. We explore the evidence for such doldrums in this talk. Consider:

a) Mars. Geochemical and meteorite evidence indicates the giant 10,600 × 8,500 km Borealis basin formed > 4.5 Ga. Many postulated basins forming afterwards, however, can be ruled out by the surprisingly pristine nature of the Borealis boundary in topography and gravity. Three of the four largest remaining basins, Hellas, Isidis, and Argyre, have superposed craters counts indicating they are < 4.1 Ga.

b) Asteroids. The oldest and most extensive sets of 39Ar-40Ar shock degassing ages, found within meteorites that were heavily shocked, shock-melted, or otherwise showed some evidence for having been part of a large collision, show age clusters between ~3.5-4.1 Ga and ~4.4-4.54 Ga. Using dynamical/impact heating models, it can be argued that relatively few projectiles were on planet-crossing orbits between ~4.1-4.4 Ga.

c) Moon. The Moon is probably 4.47 Ga, yet most sample evidence for basin-sized impacts may be < 4.2 Ga. The age gap is curious unless many basins were created close in time to the solidification of the lunar crust. Using collisional/dynamical models, it can be shown that many early basins and craters formed > 4.4 Ga. Here the early impactors may be surviving debris from the Moon-forming giant impact event; note that ejecta initially escaping the Earth-Moon system can come back over many tens of Myr. This would leave doldrums between ~4.2-4.4 Ga.

d) Earth. Early impacts may provide the means to indirectly make Hadean-era zircons (via burial of terrains by impact-derived melt). This could mean the paucity of > 4.2 Ga zircons is not solely a survival bias, but instead are doldrums. The zircon age distribution peak near ~4.15 Ga would then tell us about the onset of the late heavy bombardment.