Mars in the aftermath of a colossal impact

J. M.Y. Woo, H. Genda, R. Brasser, S. Mojzsis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


The abundance of highly siderophile elements (HSEs) inferred for Mars' mantle from martian meteorites implies a Late Veneer (LV) mass addition of ~0.8 wt% with broadly chondritic composition. Late accretion to Mars by a differentiated Ceres-sized (~1000 km diameter) object can account for part of the requisite LV mass, and geochronological constraints suggests that this must have occurred no later than ca. 4480 Ma. Here, we analyze the outcome of the hypothetical LV giant impact to Mars with smoothed particle hydrodynamics simulations together with analytical theory. Results show that, in general about 50% of the impactor's metallic core shatters into ~10 m fragments that subsequently fragment into sub-mm metallic hail at re-accretion. This returns a promising delivery of HSEs into martian mantle compared to either a head-on and hit-and-run collision; in both cases, <10% of impactor's core materials are fragmented and finally embedded in the martian mantle. Isotopic evidence from martian meteorites, and interpretations from atmospheric mapping data show that a global surface water reservoir could be present during the early Noachian (before ca. 4100 Ma). The millimeter-sized metal hail could thus react with a martian hydrosphere to generate ~3 bars of H2, which is adequate to act as a greenhouse and keep early Mars warm. Yet, we also find that this atmosphere is transient. It typically survives shorter than 3 Myr based on the expected extreme ultraviolet (EUV) flux of the early Sun; if the Sun was a slow rotator an accordingly weaker EUV flux could extend this lifetime to >10 Myr. A dense pre-Noachian CO2 atmosphere should lower the escape efficiency of hydrogen by IR emission. A more detailed hydrodynamic atmospheric model of this early hydrogen atmosphere is warranted to examine its effect on pre-Noachian Mars.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-95
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - Nov 15 2019


  • Hydrogen atmosphere
  • Late Veneer
  • Mars
  • SPH models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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