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Logotyp för Naturhistoriska riksmuseet
Logotyp för Naturhistoriska riksmuseet

Large-geometry CAMECA ims1280 ion microprobe at NRM used in this project. Photo: M. J. Whitehouse

Early planetary evolution – a microanalytical perspective

The terrestrial planets in our Solar System share a common origin via accretion from the protoplanetary solar disk at ca. 4.6 billion years ago but on Earth, plate tectonics has erased the rock record older than 4 byr. Samples from the Moon, and meteorites (including those from Mars) can illuminate this earliest period and constrain Earth’s path to its present habitability.

Forskningsområden: Geovetenskap

Forskningsämnen: Månens evolution, Planetär ackretion, Meteoritnedslagsflöde, In situ-mikroanalys

Project overview

Project period: 2013 2026

Participating departments from the museum: Department of Geosciences, GEO

In recent years, the idea that the Earth and Moon share a common early history has gained widespread acceptance.

This concerns not only models for the origin of the Moon by the Giant Impact (i.e collision of a Mars size body with proto-Earth) which can explain close similarities in their chemical and isotopic compositions, as well as a remarkable match in the nature of magmatic processes that shaped the early history of the two planetary bodies and their history of bombardment by projectiles of different sizes.

Understanding processes in the Earth-Moon system also has implications for the early development of other terrestrial planets accessible currently only as meteorites (Mars, Vesta).

Project description

Dating ancient zircon on the terrestrial planets. The current project bridges the gap between lunar and terrestrial geology by applying the same micro-analytical methods to samples from both bodies. Of key importance is the mineral zircon, the only remnant of the Earth prior to 4 Ga (zircon <4.4 Ga is found in sediments from western Australia) and present on the Moon with ages up to 4.5 Ga in regolith soils. Zircon and its microscopic mineral inclusions will be studied using a wide variety of in situ analytical methods targeted to understanding its formation in melts and what it can tell us about its parent magma, constrained by parallel study of in situ zircon in some of Earth’s earliest preserved rocks from ca. 3.8 – 4.0 Ga.

Lunar basalts. A second aspect of this project focuses on lunar basalts, samples of the mantle of the Moon (and, by analogy, the long-lost early mantle of the Earth). Using a newly developed in situ Pb-isotope analytical protocol, our work is providing new dates of unprecedented precision for the lunar basalt suite (both Apollo samples and meteorites) and helping to constrain both lunar mantle reservoir evolution early magmatic processes on the early earth.

Dating glass spherules from impacts. A third sub-project is investigating the meteorite flux in the inner solar system using silicate glass beads preserved in lunar soils. These beads form from melt droplets during impacts and can be dated using similar methods to those applied to zircon, thus providing an impact chronology.


Swedish Research Council. Länk till annan webbplats, öppnas i nytt fönster.

Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. Länk till annan webbplats, öppnas i nytt fönster.

Selected publications

  1. Kouvatsis, I., Cartwright, J.A. and Whitehouse, M.J., 2023. Lead-Lead (Pb-Pb) Dating of Eucrites and Mesosiderites: Implications for the Formation and Evolution of Vesta. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. 348, pp.369-380. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2023.03.026
  2. Connelly, J.N., Nemchin, A.A., Merle, R.E., Snape, J.F., Whitehouse, M.J. and Bizzarro, M., 2022. Calibrating volatile loss from the Moon using the U-Pb system. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 324, pp.1-16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2022.02.026
  3. Demidova, S.I., Whitehouse, M.J., Merle, R., Nemchin, A.A., Kenny, G.G., Brandstätter, F., Ntaflos, T. and Dobryden, I., 2022. A micrometeorite from a stony asteroid identified in Luna 16 soil. Nature Astronomy, 6(5), pp.560-567. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-022-01623-0
  4. Merle, R.E., Nemchin, A.A., Whitehouse, M.J., Snape, J.F., Kenny, G.G., Bellucci, J.J., Connelly, J.N. and Bizzarro, M., 2020. Pb‐Pb ages and initial Pb isotopic composition of lunar meteorites: NWA 773 clan, NWA 4734, and Dhofar 287. Meteoritics & Planetary Science, 55(8), pp.1808-1832. https://doi.org/10.1111/maps.13547
  5. Snape, J.F., Nemchin, A.A., Whitehouse, M.J., Merle, R.E., Hopkinson, T. and Anand, M., 2019. The timing of basaltic volcanism at the Apollo landing sites. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 266, pp.29-53. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2019.07.042 Länk till annan webbplats.
  6. Visser, R., John, T., Whitehouse, M.J., Patzek, M. and Bischoff, A., 2020. A short-lived 26Al induced hydrothermal alteration event in the outer solar system: Constraints from Mn/Cr ages of carbonates. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 547, p.116440. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2020.116440

Project Participants

External participants


Martin Whitehouse



Epost-ikon martin.whitehouse@nrm.se


Cécile Deligny



Epost-ikon Cecile.Deligny@nrm.se

Heejin Jeon



Epost-ikon heejin.jeon@nrm.se

Gavin Kenny



Epost-ikon gavin.kenny@nrm.se

Forskningsområden: Geovetenskap

Forskningsämnen: Månens evolution, Planetär ackretion, Meteoritnedslagsflöde, In situ-mikroanalys

Innehållsansvarig: Lisa Sundström