Lunar impact breccias: petrology, crater setting, and bombardment history of the Moon
Two general classes of lunar impact breccias have been recognised: fragmental breccias and melt breccias. Fragmental breccias are composed of clastic-rock debris in a finely comminuted grain-supported matrix of mineral and lithic fragments. Impact melt breccias have crystalline to glassy matrices that formed by cooling of a silicate melt. Most lunar impact breccias in our collection probably sample ejecta from large complex craters or multi-ring basins, although linking individual breccias to specific impact events has proven surprisingly difficult. A long-standing problem in lunar science has been distinguishing clast-poor impact melt breccias from igneous rocks produced by melting of the lunar interior. Concentrations and relative abundances of highly siderophile elements derived from the meteoritic impactor provide a useful discriminant, especially when combined with petrologic and geochemical evidence for mechanical mixing. Most lunar impact melt breccias have crystallisation ages of 4.0–3.8 Ga, corresponding to an episode of intensive crustal metamorphism recorded by whole-rock U–Pb isotopic compositions of lunar anorthosites. This may reflect a short-lived spike in the cratering rate, although other explanations are possible. The question of whether or not a cataclysmic bombardment struck the Earth and Moon at ca 3.9 Ga remains open and the subject of continuing investigations.
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