Terrestrial planets

Nadine G. Barlow

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The four terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) and Earth’s Moon display similar compositions, interior structures, and geologic histories. The terrestrial planets formed by accretion ∼ 4.5 Ga ago out of the solar nebula, whereas the Moon formed through accretion of material ejected off Earth during a giant impact event shortly after Earth formed. Geophysical investigations (gravity anomalies, seismic analysis, heat flow measurements, and magnetic field studies) reveal that all five bodies have differentiated into a low-density silicate crust, an intermediate density silicate mantle, and an iron-rich core. Seismic and heat flow measurements are only available for Earth and its Moon, and only Earth and Mercury currently exhibit actively produced magnetic fields (although Mars and the Moon retain remanent fields). Surface evolutions of all five bodies have been influenced by impact cratering, volcanism, tectonism, and mass wasting. Aeolian activity only occurs on bodies with a substantial atmosphere (Venus, Earth, and Mars) and only Earth and Mars display evidence of fluvial and glacial processes. Earth’s volcanic and tectonic activity is largely driven by plate tectonics, whereas those processes on Venus result from vertical motions associated with hotspots and mantle upwellings. Mercury displays a unique tectonic regime of global contraction caused by gradual solidification of its large iron core. Early large impact events stripped away much of Mercury’s crust and mantle, produced Venus’ slow retrograde rotation, ejected material off Earth that became the Moon, and may have created the Martian hemispheric dichotomy. The similarities and differences between the interiors and surfaces of these five bodies provide scientists with a better understanding of terrestrial planet evolutionary paths.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPlanets, Stars and Stellar Systems
Subtitle of host publicationVolume 3: Solar and Stellar Planetary Systems
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages83
ISBN (Electronic)9789400756069
ISBN (Print)9789400756052
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013


  • Aeolian
  • Asthenosphere
  • Core
  • Crust
  • Earth
  • Fluvial
  • Geology
  • Glacial
  • Impactcraters
  • Interior structure
  • Lithosphere
  • Mantle
  • Mars
  • Mass wasting
  • Mercury
  • Moon
  • Platetectonics
  • Tectonism
  • Terrestrial planets
  • Venus
  • Volcanism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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