A possible anorthositic continent of early Mars and the role of planetary size for the inception of Earth-like life

James M. Dohm, Shigenori Maruyama, Motoyuki Kido, Victor R. Baker

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    The Moon has an anorthositic primordial continental crust. Recently anorthosite has also been discovered on the Martian surface. Although the occurrence of anorthosite is observed to be very limited in Earth's extant geological record, both lunar and Martian surface geology suggest that anorthosite may have comprised a primordial continent on the early Earth during the first 600 million years after its formation. We hypothesized that differences in the presence of an anorthositic continent on an Earth-like planet are due to planetary size. Earth likely lost its primordial anorthositic continent by tectonic erosion through subduction associated with a kind of proto-plate tectonics (PPT). In contrast, Mars and the Moon, as much smaller planetary bodies, did not lose much of their anorthositic continental crust because mantle convection had weakened and/or largely stopped, and with time, they had appropriately cooled down. Applying this same reasoning to a super-Earth exoplanet suggests that, while a primordial anorthositic continent may briefly form on its surface, such a continent will be likely transported into the deep mantle due to intense mantle convection immediately following its formation. The presence of a primordial continent on an Earth-like planet seems to be essential to whether the planet will be habitable to Earth-like life. The key role of the primordial continent is to provide the necessary and sufficient nutrients for the emergence and evolution of life. With the appearance of a “trinity” consisting of (1) an atmosphere, (2) an ocean, and (3) the primordial continental landmass, material circulation can be maintained to enable a “Habitable Trinity” environment that will permit the emergence of Earth-like life. Thus, with little likelihood of a persistent primordial continent, a super-Earth affords very little chance for Earth-like life to emerge.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1085-1098
    Number of pages14
    JournalGeoscience Frontiers
    Volume9
    Issue number4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jul

    Keywords

    • Anorthosite on Mars
    • Habitable trinity
    • Moon
    • Origin of life
    • Plate tectonics
    • Super-Earth

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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