Boundaries and Subdivisions
The lower boundary of the Hesperian System is defined as the base of the ridged plains, which are typified by Hesperia Planum and cover about a third of the planet’s surface. In eastern Hesperia Planum, the ridged plains overlie early to mid Noachian aged cratered plateau materials (pictured left). The Hesperian’s upper boundary is more complex and has been redefined several times based on increasingly detailed geologic mapping. Currently, the stratigraphic boundary of the Hesperian with the younger Amazonian System is defined as the base of the Vastitas Borealis Formation (pictured right). The Vastitas Borealis is a vast, low-lying plain that covers much of the northern hemisphere of Mars. It is generally interpreted to consist of reworked sediments originating from the Late Hesperian outflow channels and may be the remnant of an ocean that covered the northern lowland basins. Another interpretation of the Vastitas Borealis Formation is that it consists of lava flows.
The Hesperian System is subdivided into two chronostratigraphic series: Lower Hesperian and Upper Hesperian. The series are based on referents or locations on the planet where surface units indicate a distinctive geological episode, recognizable in time by cratering age and stratigraphic position. For example, Hesperia Planum is the referent location for the Lower Hesperian Series. The corresponding geologic time (geochronological) units of the two Hesperian series are the Early Hesperian and Late Hesperian Epochs. Note that an epoch is a subdivision of a period; the two terms are not synonymous in formal stratigraphy. The age of the Early Hepserian/Late Hesperian boundary is uncertain, ranging from 3600 to 3200 million years ago based on crater counts. The average of the range is shown in the timeline below.
Stratigraphic terms are typically confusing to geologists and non-geologists alike. One way to sort through the difficulty is by the following example: You could easily go to Cincinnati, Ohio and visit a rock outcrop in the Upper Ordovician Series of the Ordovician System. You could even collect a fossil trilobite there. However, you could not visit the Late Ordovician Epoch in the Ordovician Period and collect an actual trilobite (unless you have a time machine).
The Earth-based scheme of rigid stratigraphic nomenclature has been successfully applied to Mars for several decades now but has numerous flaws. The scheme will no doubt become refined or replaced as more and better data become available. (See mineralogical timeline below as example of alternative.) Obtaining radiometric ages on samples from identified surface units is clearly necessary for a more complete understanding of Martian chronology.
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Famous quotes containing the word boundaries:
“We love to overlook the boundaries which we do not wish to pass.”
—Samuel Johnson (17091784)