The cool and distant formation of Mars

R. Brasser (Lead / Corresponding author), S. J. Mojzsis, S. Matsumura, S. Ida

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)
291 Downloads (Pure)


With approximately one ninth of Earth's mass, Mars is widely considered to be a stranded planetary embryo that never became a fully-grown planet. A currently popular planet formation theory predicts that Mars formed near Earth and Venus and was subsequently scattered outwards to its present location. In such a scenario, the compositions of the three planets are expected to be similar to each other. However, bulk elemental and isotopic data for martian meteorites demonstrate that key aspects of Mars' composition are markedly different from that of Earth. This suggests that Mars formed outside of the terrestrial feeding zone during primary accretion. It is therefore probable that Mars always remained significantly farther from the Sun than Earth; its growth was stunted early and its mass remained relatively low. Here we identify a potential dynamical pathway that forms Mars in the asteroid belt and keeps it outside of Earth's accretion zone while at the same time accounting for strict age and compositional constraints, as well as mass differences. Our uncommon pathway (approximately 2% probability) is based on the Grand Tack scenario of terrestrial planet formation, in which the radial migration by Jupiter gravitationally sculpts the planetesimal disc at Mars' current location. We conclude that Mars' formation requires a specific dynamical pathway, while this is less valid for Earth and Venus. We further predict that Mars' volatile budget is most likely different from Earth's and that Venus formed close enough to our planet that it is expected to have a nearly identical composition from common building blocks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-93
Number of pages9
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Early online date19 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2017


  • composition
  • formation
  • Grand Tack
  • isotopes
  • Mars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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