The moon and the planets

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 281–320 | Cite as

Thermal evolutions of the terrestrial planets

  • M. Nafi Toksöz
  • Albert T. Hsui
  • David J. Johnston


The thermal evolution of the Moon, Mercury, Mars, Venus and hypothetical minor planets is calculated theoretically, taking into account conduction, solid-state convection, and differentiation. An assortment of geological, geochemical, and geophysical data is used to constrain both the present day temperatures and thermal histories of the planets' interiors. Such data imply that the planets were heated during or shortly after formation and that all the terrestrial planets started their differentiations early in their history. Initial temperatures and core formation play the most important roles in the early differentiation. The size of the planet is the primary factor in determining its present day thermal state. A planetary body with radius less than 1000 km is unlikely to reach melting given heat source concentrations similar to terrestrial values and in the absence of intensive early heating such as short half-life radioactive heating and inductive heating.

Studies of individual planets are constrained by varying amounts of data. Most data exist for the Earth and Moon. The Moon is a differentiated body with a crust, a thick solid mantle and an interior region which may be partially molten. It is presently cooling rapidly and is relatively inactive tectonically.

Mercury most likely has a large core. Thermal calculations indicate it may have a 500 km thick solid lithosphere, and the core may be partially molten if it contains some heat sources. If this is not the case, the planet's interior temperatures are everywhere below the melting curve for iron. The thermal evolution is dominated by core separation and the high conductivity of iron which makes up the bulk of Mercury.

Mars, intermediate in size among the terrestrial planets, is assumed to have differentiated an Fe−FeS core. Differentiation and formation of an early crust is evident from Mariner and Viking observations. Theoretical models suggest that melting and differentiation of the mantle silicates has occurred at least up until 1 billion years ago. Present day temperature profiles indicate a relatively thick (∼250 km) lithosphere with a possible asthenosphere below. The core is molten.

Venus is characterized as a planet similar to the Earth in many respects. Core formation probably occurred during the first billion years after the formation. Present day temperatures indicate a partially molten upper mantle overlain by a 100 km thick lithosphere and a molten Fe−Ni core. If temperature models are good indicators, we can expect that today, Venus has tectonic processes similar to the Earth's.


Lithosphere Asthenosphere Thermal Evolution Terrestrial Planet Core Formation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Nafi Toksöz
    • 1
  • Albert T. Hsui
    • 1
  • David J. Johnston
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Earth and Planetary SciencesMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeU.S.A.

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