Letter | Published:

Origin and age of the earliest Martian crust from meteorite NWA 7533

Nature volume 503, pages 513516 (28 November 2013) | Download Citation

Abstract

The ancient cratered terrain of the southern highlands of Mars is thought to hold clues to the planet’s early differentiation1,2, but until now no meteoritic regolith breccias have been recovered from Mars. Here we show that the meteorite Northwest Africa (NWA) 7533 (paired with meteorite NWA 70343) is a polymict breccia consisting of a fine-grained interclast matrix containing clasts of igneous-textured rocks and fine-grained clast-laden impact melt rocks. High abundances of meteoritic siderophiles (for example nickel and iridium) found throughout the rock reach a level in the fine-grained portions equivalent to 5 per cent CI chondritic input, which is comparable to the highest levels found in lunar breccias. Furthermore, analyses of three leucocratic monzonite clasts show a correlation between nickel, iridium and magnesium consistent with differentiation from impact melts. Compositionally, all the fine-grained material is alkalic basalt, chemically identical (except for sulphur, chlorine and zinc) to soils from Gusev crater. Thus, we propose that NWA 7533 is a Martian regolith breccia. It contains zircons for which we measured an age of 4,428 ± 25 million years, which were later disturbed 1,712 ± 85 million years ago. This evidence for early crustal differentiation implies that the Martian crust, and its volatile inventory4, formed in about the first 100 million years of Martian history, coeval with earliest crust formation on the Moon5 and the Earth6. In addition, incompatible element abundances in clast-laden impact melt rocks and interclast matrix provide a geochemical estimate of the average thickness of the Martian crust (50 kilometres) comparable to that estimated geophysically2,7.

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Acknowledgements

We thank L. Labenne for providing samples of NWA 7533 for this study. We thank M. Fialin and F. Couffignal for help with the electron microprobe. We thank the NASA Cosmochemistry Program for support to M.H. (NNX10AI37G) and the Programme National de Planétologie, France, for support to B.Z. M.G. thanks the ARC Centre of Excellence CCFS for funding. We thank H. McSween for comments.

Author information

Author notes

    • A. Nemchin

    Present address: Laboratory for Isotope Geology, Swedish Museum of Natural History, SE-104 05 Stockholm, Sweden.

Affiliations

  1. Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, and National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32310, USA

    • M. Humayun
  2. Department of Applied Geology, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia 6845, Australia

    • A. Nemchin
    •  & M. Grange
  3. Laboratoire de Minéralogie et Cosmochimie du Muséum, CNRS and Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, 75005 Paris, France

    • B. Zanda
    • , R. H. Hewins
    • , C. Fieni
    •  & S. Pont
  4. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey 08854, USA

    • B. Zanda
    •  & R. H. Hewins
  5. Department of Applied Physics, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia 6845, Australia

    • A. Kennedy
  6. Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique de Nantes, CNRS UMR 6112, Université de Nantes, 2 Rue de la Houssinière, BP 92208, 44322 Nantes Cedex 3, France

    • J.-P. Lorand
  7. Institut de Physique du Globe, Sorbonne Paris Cité, University Paris Diderot, CNRS UMR 7154, F-75005 Paris, France

    • C. Göpel
  8. Ecole Normale Supérieure, UMR 8538, 75231 Paris Cedex 5, France

    • D. Deldicque

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Contributions

M.H., A.N., B.Z. and R.H.H. had the idea behind and directed the research, and wrote the manuscript. M.H. and B.Z. performed laser ablation ICP–MS analyses at Florida State University; A.N., M.G. and A.K. performed the SHRIMP ion probe U–Pb analyses at Curtin University and interpreted the chronology; B.Z. and C.F. prepared polished samples; R.H.H. and B.Z. performed petrological studies; J.-P.L. and S.P. investigated the mineralogy of the sulphide phases and searched for the carriers of platinum-group elements; C.G. provided separated CLIMR clasts; S.P., D.D., J.-P.L. and B.Z. located and imaged zircon and baddeleyite by scanning electron microscopy.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to M. Humayun.

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    Supplementary Information

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12764

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