The Brown-Vernadsky Microsymposium 53, “Early History of the Terrestrial Planets: New Insights from the Moon and Mercury,” was held March 17-18, 2012 at The Woodlands, Texas. The symposium was organized by NLSI’s Brown/MIT team headed by PI Carle Pieters, Jim Head, Sasha Basilevsky, Maria Zuber, and Ben Weiss, and was co-Sponsored by Brown University, Vernadsky Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI). A number of NLSI participants were also involved.

Beginning with Luna 1, over 50 years ago, the Moon has evolved into a paradigm for the early history of the terrestrial planets. Extensive human and robotic exploration of the Moon has provided a comprehensive data set that has outlined the basic events, themes and processes in the first half of Solar System history. Recent lunar research results from spacecraft mission data analysis, theory and laboratory analyses are challenging many fundamental views.

Furthermore, comprehensive new data from ongoing exploration of Mercury by the MESSENGER spacecraft have rejuvenated interest in this planet and the lessons it holds for early Solar System history. Long known to be different in terms of its size and density, but thought by many to be Moon-like in terms of its surface features and geological evolution from Mariner 10 data, Mercury is emerging as fundamentally different from the Moon. MESSENGER data have revealed crustal compositions quite unlike those anticipated.

MESSENGER data also reveal a cratering record that differs from the Moon in interesting ways, volcanism concurrent with the period of heavy bombardment, evidence for huge outpourings of lava in flood basalt mode, abundant and globally distributed pyroclastic deposits and hollows that imply the presence of interior volatiles, and a global magnetic field with an unusually strong asymmetry about the planetary equator.

These findings have clearly challenged an earlier vision of a “Moon-like” Mercury, and have placed into question most earlier paradigms for the origin and evolution of the innermost planet. Although the two bodies are different, it is clear that comparison between the Moon and Mercury may help to resolve outstanding problems in the origin and evolution of each, and shed new light on the fundamental themes and events in the histories of the terrestrial planets.

The goal of Microsymposium 53 was to present a summary of these new discoveries, and to bring together representatives of the geology, mineralogy, petrology, spectroscopy, geochemistry, geophysics and dynamics communities to discuss these new findings and to ponder their implications for the next generation of significant scientific problems. A critical aspect of this discussion was to assess the implications of this new perspective for future goals and destinations for exploration of the Moon and Mercury.

The Microsymposium emphasized open discussion format but was anchored by invited overviews, commentaries and posters. Overviews included the areas of origin, earliest differentiation history, internal structure, magnetism, bombardment history, petrogenesis, volcanic and tectonic evolution and volatile history.

NLSI received a number of very positive comments about the Microsymposium from both speakers and participants, particularly concerning the theme, the quality of the individual presentations, and the ability to ask questions and listen to the extensive discussion following the presentations.

A link to the program can be found here:

The event website can be found here:

Posted by: Soderman/NLSI Staff
Source: NLSI Team

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