In Situ Geochronology for the Next Decade: Mission Designs for the Moon, Mars, and Vesta

Barbara A. Cohen, Kelsey E. Young, Nicolle E.B. Zellner, Kris Zacny, R. Aileen Yingst, Ryan N. Watkins, Richard Warwick, Sarah N. Valencia, Timothy D. Swindle, Stuart J. Robbins, Noah E. Petro, Anthony Nicoletti, Dan P. Moriarty, Richard Lynch, Stephen J. Indyk, Juliane Gross, Jennifer A. Grier, John A. Grant, Amani Ginyard, Caleb I. FassettKenneth A. Farley, Benjamin J. Farcy, Bethany L. Ehlmann, M. Darby Dyar, Gerard Daelemans, Natalie M. Curran, Carolyn H.Van Der Bogert, Ricardo D. Arevalo, F. Scott Anderson8

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Geochronology is an indispensable tool for reconstructing the geologic history of planets, essential to understanding the formation and evolution of our solar system. Bombardment chronology bounds models of solar system dynamics, as well as the timing of volatile, organic, and siderophile element delivery. Absolute ages of magmatic products provide constraints on the dynamics of magma oceans and crustal formation, as well as the longevity and evolution of interior heat engines and distinct mantle/crustal source regions. Absolute dating also relates habitability markers to the timescale of evolution of life on Earth. However, the number of terrains important to date on worlds of the inner solar system far exceeds our ability to conduct sample return from all of them. In preparation for the upcoming Decadal Survey, our team formulated a set of medium-class (New Frontiers) mission concepts to three different locations (the Moon, Mars, and Vesta) where sites that record solar system bombardment, magmatism, and habitability are uniquely preserved and accessible. We developed a notional payload to directly date planetary surfaces, consisting of two instruments capable of measuring radiometric ages, an imaging spectrometer, optical cameras to provide site geologic context and sample characterization, a traceelement analyzer to augment sample contextualization, and a sample acquisition and handling system. Landers carrying this payload to the Moon, Mars, and Vesta would likely fit into the New Frontiers cost cap in our study (∼$1B). A mission of this type would provide crucial constraints on planetary history while also enabling a broad suite of complementary investigations 2021. The Author(s). Published by the American Astronomical Society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number145
JournalPlanetary Science Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Cosmochronology (332)
  • Earth-moon system (436)
  • Lunar geochronology (954)
  • Main belt asteroids (2036)
  • Mars (1007)
  • Selenology (1441)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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