Europlanet Science Congress 2021
Virtual meeting
13 – 24 September 2021
Europlanet Science Congress 2021
Virtual meeting
13 September – 24 September 2021
EPSC Abstracts
Vol. 15, EPSC2021-765, 2021
European Planetary Science Congress 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Identifying the Sweet Spot for an Impact-Induced Martian Dichotomy

Harry Ballantyne1, Martin Jutzi1, and Gregor J. Golabek2
Harry Ballantyne et al.
  • 1Universität Bern, Physics, Space Research & Planetary Sciences (WP), Bern, Switzerland
  • 2Bayerisches Geoinstitut, Universität Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany


The martian crustal dichotomy predominantly refers to the 4-8 km difference in elevation between the southern hemisphere and an apparent basin covering roughly 42% of the north, with this topographical picture being strongly reflected in distribution of crust below. Other associated features include a higher density of volcanoes and visible impact craters in the south relative to the north.

Most studies attempting to explain these properties have supported one of two theories; either the dichotomy formed solely through geodynamic processes [1], or a giant impact occurred that imprinted the crustal cavity in the northern hemisphere that is observed today [2]. Recent work has proved the importance of coupling these hypotheses, introducing a hybrid exogenic-endogenic scenario whereby a giant impact triggered a localized magma ocean and subsequent superplume in the southern hemisphere [3]. This has, however, only been investigated using a very limited range of initial parameters, all of which lead to significant heating deep into the mantle. This therefore motivates an interesting area of study – is there a sweet spot in the parameter space where hemispherically-thickened crust is the most likely outcome?

We aim to answer this question using a suite of smoothed-particle hydrodynamics (SPH) simulations, using the SPHLATCH code [3,4], that explore a large parameter-space chosen with the intention of limited internal heating. For the analysis of the simulation outcomes we apply a newly developed scheme to estimate the thickness and distribution of (newly formed or re-distributed) post-impact crust.


The chosen initial parameters for the main suite of SPH simulations are as follows: impact angles of 0-90° in steps of 15°; impact velocities of 1.0, 1.2 and 1.4 times the mutual escape speed; impactor radii of 1000km, 1500km and 2000km; and relative core masses of 25% and 50%. All of these simulations use a resolution of 200,000 SPH particles, with near head-on collisions (0-30°) being modelled for 50 hours after impact and oblique collisions (45-90°) for 200 hours to allow for any secondary (or even tertiary) impacts.

Each model includes the effects of shear strength and plasticity (via a Drucker-Prager-like yield criterion) as such effects have been shown to be significant on the scales concerned in this study [3,4]. Moreover, the sophisticated equation of state ANEOS is being used along with a Mars-specific solidus [6] to accurately calculate the physical environment in which such solid characteristics must be considered.

In all of these studies, both Mars and the impactor are treated as differentiated bodies composed of an iron core and a silicate mantle. An example result of one of these simulations can be seen in Figure 1.