Introduction to Solar System Part 3


The Terrestrial Planets and Earth’s Moon


Similar but Different

Terrestrial planets:
    

Mercury Venus Earth Mars Earth’s Moon (or simply, the Moon)

 

All are rocky/metallic, dense. Smallest two have little/no atmosphere.


Earth’s Interior

Core: Highest density; nickel and iron Mantle: Moderate density; silicon, oxygen, etc. Crust: Lowest density; granite, basalt, etc.


Terrestrial Planet Interiors

Applying what we have learned about Earth’s interior to other planets tells us what their interiors are probably like.

Mass is Key

The differences between the planets are largely driven by mass. Different processes depend on the mass of the planet.

Mass ratio to Earth Moon Mercury Mars 0.012 0.055 0.11




Role of Size

 

Smaller worlds cool off faster and harden earlier. The Moon and Mercury are now geologically ―dead.‖

Surface Area-to-Volume Ratio
  

Heat content depends on volume. Loss of heat through radiation depends on surface area. Time to cool depends on surface area divided by volume:

• Larger objects have a smaller ratio and cool more slowly.

Comparative Planetology
 

We can learn a lot by comparing the planets. The same processes operate on each planet:
   

Tectonism (moving crustal plates) Volcanism (volcanoes) Impacts (cratering) Gradation (smoothing by weathering and erosion)

These processes are stronger or weaker on the different planets.


Geological Processes

Impact cratering

Impacts by asteroids or comets
Eruption of molten rock onto surface Large scale disruption of a planet’s surface by internal stresses



Weathering and Erosion

Surface changes made by wind, water, or ice


Impact Cratering

Most cratering happened soon after the solar system formed. Craters are about 10 times wider than the objects that made them. Small craters greatly outnumber large ones.


Impact Craters

Meteor Crater (Arizona)

Tycho (Moon)

Impact Craters

   

Craters on the Moon are relics of the last phase of planetary accretion, which ended about 4 billion years ago. All terrestrial planets experienced this. Venus and Earth have few craters. Subsequent tectonism and erosion erases the craters. Some large impacts on the Earth have influenced the evolution of life.


Cratered Region on the Moon



On the Moon

 

Rocks returned in the Apollo missions (1969-1972) give ages. Rocks from different places show rate of accretion in the early Solar System. Accretion rate fell sharply after a billion years. Older surfaces have more craters because they were formed when the cratering rate was higher.


Cratering Rate



Formation of the Moon

 

Moon formed in a large collision between Earth + Mars-sized planetesimal (or protoplanet). The collision scattered material into Earth orbit; this collected by accretion to form the Moon. Composition of Moon is like that of Earth’s crust. Dark areas on Moon (maria) are ancient lava flows from the interior due to volcanism associated with heating by major impacting.


A Model of the Earth
 

  

We model the Earth’s interior by studying earthquakes. Earthquake waves (seismic waves) travel at different speeds through different materials. P (primary) waves travel through solids and liquids. S (secondary) waves go through solids only. Earth’s layers are: crust, mantle, liquid outer core, solid inner core


The Earth’s Interior


 

Crust: continents (low density silicates) and ocean basins (basalt: higher iron content). Mantle. (Iron-magnesium rich silicate minerals) Core (iron, nickel and other dense materials).

Produced by differentiation in the early Earth: dense materials sink; low-density materials rise.



How do we know what’s inside a planet?

P waves push matter back and forth.

S waves shake matter side to side.


How do we know what’s inside a planet?

P waves go through Earth’s core, but S waves do not.
We conclude that Earth’s core must have a liquid outer layer.


The Earth’sInterior


Models of Other Terrestrial Planets
 

  

Interiors are hot, while surfaces are cool. The planets were molten when formed, then experienced differentiation. Smaller planets lose heat faster, large ones slower. Smaller planets have less radioactive material. These and other effects are included in models.


Interiors of the Planets


Tectonism on Earth

Interior heat flows to the surface, producing volcanoes and motion of lithospheric plates in a process referred to as plate tectonics. Lithospheric plates are moved around by convection within the mantle. Convection = rising and falling of hot/cold material. Motion of interior core material also generates magnetic fields. Planet rotation may also be important.



 

Convection of the mantle creates stresses in the crust called tectonic forces. Compression forces make mountain ranges. A valley can form where the crust is pulled apart.


Major Tectonic Plates


Plate Motion

Motion of plates can be measured with GPS.

Planetary Magnetic Fields

Moving charged particles create magnetic fields. A planet’s interior can create magnetic fields if its core is electrically conducting, convecting, and rotating.

Earth’s Magnetic Field


Earth’s Magnetosphere
Earth’s magnetic field protects us from charged particles from the Sun. The charged particles can create aurorae (―Northern lights‖).


Earth: Tectonism and Magnetism
    

Laboratory: mid-Atlantic ridge. Plates spreading apart, new material rises in the gap. Solidifying material shows magnetic field at the time. Direction of the field reverses periodically. Rock ages reveal rates of plate motion.


Atlantic Ocean Basin

Mid-Atlantic Ridge


Mid-Atlantic Ridge



Volcanism happens when molten rock (magma) finds a path through lithosphere to the surface. Molten rock is called lava after it reaches the surface.



Volcanism also releases gases from Earth’s interior into the atmosphere.


Weathering and Erosion

 

Large planets also have atmospheres, producing erosion by wind. On the Earth, water, wind, and ice strongly erode features. This erases old features like craters. Planets lacking atmospheres, running water, and moving ice retain craters and other ancient features.



Erosion is a blanket term for weather-driven processes that transport broken down rock material. The transported material is referred to as sediment Processes that cause erosion include — Glaciers (moving ice) — Rivers (running water) — Wind (air currents)


Erosion by Water

The Colorado River continues to carve the Grand Canyon.


Erosion by Ice

Glaciers carved the Yosemite Valley.


Erosion by Wind

Wind wears away rock and builds up sand dunes.


Erosional Debris

Erosion can create new features by depositing debris.


How does Earth’s atmosphere affect the planet?


Effects of Atmosphere on Earth
1. 2. 3. 4.

Erosion Radiation protection Greenhouse effect Makes the sky blue!

Radiation Protection

All X-ray light is absorbed very high in the atmosphere. Ultraviolet light is absorbed by ozone (O3).


Earth’s atmosphere absorbs light at most wavelengths.


The Greenhouse Effect


A Greenhouse Gas

Any gas that absorbs infrared Greenhouse gas: molecules with two different types of elements (CO2, H2O, CH4)

Not a greenhouse gas: molecules with one or two atoms of the same element (O2, N2)


Why the sky is blue

Atmosphere scatters blue light from the Sun, making it appear to come from different directions.

Sunsets are red because less of the red light from the Sun is scattered.


What have we learned?

Why is Earth geologically active? — Earth retains plenty of internal heat because it is large for a terrestrial planet. — That heat drives geological activity, keeping the core molten and driving geological activity. — The circulation of molten metal in the core generates Earth’s magnetic field.


What have we learned?

What geological processes shape Earth’s surface? — Impact cratering, volcanism, tectonics, and erosion How does Earth’s atmosphere affect the planet? — Erosion — Protection from radiation — Greenhouse effect


Histories of the Terrestrial Worlds


Mercury and the Moon: Geologically Dead

Was there ever geological activity on the Moon or Mercury?



Some volcanic activity 3 billion years ago must have flooded lunar craters, creating lunar maria. The Moon is now geologically dead.


Cratering of Mercury

Mercury has a mixture of heavily cratered and smooth regions like the Moon. The smooth regions are likely ancient lava flows.


Tectonics on Mercury

Long cliffs indicate that Mercury shrank early in its history.


What have we learned?

Was there ever geological activity on the Moon or Mercury?

— —

Early cratering on the Moon and Mercury is still present, indicating that activity ceased long ago. Lunar maria resulted from early volcanism. Tectonic features on Mercury indicate early shrinkage.


Mars versus Earth
    

50% Earth’s radius, 10% Earth’s mass 1.5 AU from the Sun Axis tilt about the same as Earth Similar rotation period Thin CO2 atmosphere: little greenhouse Main difference: Mars is SMALLER


Storms on Mars

Seasonal winds on Mars can drive huge dust storms.

Sand Dunes on Mars

NASA/JPL Malin Space Science Systems


Evidence that Water Once Existed on the Surface of Mars

While there is no running water on Mars today, there is plenty of evidence that it once existed on the surface. Most of this evidence is in the form of dry channels on the surface of Mars that were formed by running water. Water existed on the surface of Mars several billion years ago, when the atmosphere of the planet was thicker and the temperature was warmer.


The surface of Mars appears to have ancient riverbeds.

Water Formed Gullies
This dramatic view of gullies emergent from layered outcrops occurs on the wall of a crater within the much larger impact basin, Newton. Newton Crater and its surrounding terrain exhibit many examples of gullies on the walls of craters and troughs. The gullies exhibit meandering channels with fan-shaped aprons of debris located downslope. The gullies are considered to have been formed by erosion--both from a fluid (such as water) running downslope, and by slumping and landsliding processes driven by the force of gravity. This picture was obtained by the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) in March 2001; it is illuminated from the upper left and covers an area 3 km (1.9 mi) across. 64


Runoff Channels – photos fromMars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC)



Channelized Canyon Cut by Running Water
This picture of a canyon on the Martian surface was obtained a few minutes after 10 PM PST, January 8, 1998 by the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC), during the 87th orbit around Mars of the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft. It shows the canyon of Nanedi Vallis, one of the Martian valley systems cutting through cratered plains in the Xanthe Terra region of Mars. The picture covers an area 9.8 km by 18.5 km (6.1 mi by 11.5 mi), and features as small as 12 m (39 ft) can be seen.


Scientifically, perhaps the most important result from use of the Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor during that spacecraft's extended mission has been the discovery and documentation of a fossil delta. The feature is located in a crater northeast of Holden Crater, near 24.0 degrees south latitude, 33.7 degrees west longitude. The image covers an area of about 3 by 3 kilometers (1.9 x 1.9 miles).






North and South Polar Ice Caps




Volcanoes…as recent as 180 million years ago…


Past tectonic activity…


Why did Mars change?


Climate Change on Mars

Magnetic field may have preserved early Martian atmosphere. Solar wind may have stripped atmosphere after field decreased because of interior cooling.

What have we learned?

What geological features tell us that water once flowed on Mars?

Dry riverbeds, eroded craters, and rock-strewn floodplains all show that water once flowed on Mars. Mars today has ice, underground water ice, and perhaps pockets of underground liquid water.
Mars’s atmosphere must have once been much thicker for its greenhouse effect to allow liquid water on the surface. Somehow Mars lost most of its atmosphere, perhaps because of a declining magnetic field.

Why did Mars change?


Is Venus geologically active?


Cratering on Venus

Impact craters, but fewer than Moon, Mercury, Mars


Volcanoes on Venus

Many volcanoes


Tectonics on Venus

Fractured and contorted surface indicates tectonic stresses


Erosion on Venus

Photos of rocks taken by lander show little erosion


Does Venus have plate tectonics?

Most of Earth’s major geological features can be attributed to plate tectonics, which gradually remakes Earth’s surface. Venus does not appear to have plate tectonics, but its entire surface seems to have been ―repaved‖ 750 million years ago.


Why is Venus so hot?
The greenhouse effect on Venus keeps its surface temperature at 470°C. But why is the greenhouse effect on Venus so much stronger than on Earth?


Greenhouse Effect on Venus

Thick carbon dioxide atmosphere produces an extremely strong greenhouse effect. Earth escapes this fate because most of its carbon and water are in rocks and oceans.


What have we learned?

Is Venus geologically active?

Its surface shows evidence of major volcanism and tectonics during the last billion years. There is no evidence for erosion or plate tectonics. The runaway greenhouse effect made Venus too hot for liquid oceans. All carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere, leading to a huge greenhouse effect.

Why is Venus so hot?


What unique features of Earth are important for life? Surface liquid water Atmospheric oxygen Plate tectonics Climate stability

1. 2. 3. 4.


Water is Necessary for Life
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Water in abundance exists only on the Earth. None on Mercury (too hot) or the Moon (too small). None on Venus (too hot). Mars: water ice below surface. Mars may once have had surface water:
 

Chemical composition of certain minerals. Erosion features.


What unique features of Earth are important for life?
Surface liquid water Atmospheric oxygen Plate tectonics Climate stability
Earth’s distance from the Sun and moderate greenhouse effect make liquid water possible.

1. 2. 3. 4.


What unique features of Earth are important for life?
Surface liquid water Atmospheric oxygen Plate tectonics Climate stability

1. 2. 3. 4.

PHOTOSYNTHESIS (by plants and certain bacterial life) is required to make high concentrations of O2, which produces the protective layer of O3.


What unique features of Earth are important for life?
Surface liquid water Atmospheric oxygen Plate tectonics Climate stability

1. 2. 3. 4.

Plate tectonics is an important step in the carbon dioxide cycle.


Seafloor Recycling

Seafloor is recycled through a process known as subduction.

Carbon Dioxide Cycle

Atmospheric CO2 dissolves in rainwater. Rain erodes minerals that flow into the ocean. Minerals combine with carbon to make rocks on ocean floor.




Carbon Dioxide Cycle

Subduction carries carbonate rocks down into the mantle. Rock melts in mantle and outgases CO2 back into atmosphere through volcanoes.



What unique features of Earth are important for life?
Surface liquid water Atmospheric oxygen Plate tectonics Climate stability

1. 2. 3. 4.

The CO2 cycle acts like a thermostat for Earth’s temperature.


Long-Term Climate Change

 

Changes in Earth’s axis tilt might lead to ice ages. Widespread ice tends to lower global temperatures by increasing Earth’s reflectivity. CO2 from outgassing will build up if oceans are frozen, ultimately raising global temperatures again.


How is human activity changing our planet?


Global Warming

Earth’s average temperature has increased by 0.5°C in the past 50 years. The concentration of CO2 is rising rapidly. An unchecked rise in greenhouse gases will eventually lead to global warming.


CO2 Concentration

Most of the CO2 increase has happened in the last 50 years!

Modeling of Climate Change

Models of global warming that include human production of greenhouse gases are a better match to the global temperature rise.


What makes a planet habitable?

Located at an optimal distance from the Sun for liquid water to exist

What makes a planet habitable?

Large enough for geological activity to release and retain water and atmosphere

Planetary Destiny
Earth is habitable because it is large enough to remain geologically active, and it is at the right distance from the Sun so oceans could form.


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