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Planetary Resurfacing - Windows to the Universe

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The Winter 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist includes a variety of educational resources, ranging from astronomy to glaciers. Check out the other publications and classroom materials in our online store.
This is an image of the Martian dunefields.
Click on image for full size

What causes a Planet's surface to change its appearance?

Over the course of time there are many things which can cause the surface of a planet to change its appearance.

  • winds, as shown in the example from the Martian surface
    • Monument Valley on Earth is an example
  • weather & water, which cause erosion
  • volcanism, which pours out a new surface
    • The Moon is an example.
  • continental drift
  • slow forces of deformation like those which cause mountains to form.
  • slumping of craters, mountains and volcanoes.
In their earliest histories, every planet & moon was bombarded with the remains of the material which formed them. If a planet's surface does not show many craters, it means that the surface is new, and the planet has been resurfaced, perhaps by one of the processes above. If the planet's surface still shows the many craters left over from it's formation, then that surface is very old, and has not been changed by any activity.

Last modified April 26, 2001 by Jennifer Bergman.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF