Abstract

The importance of impact cratering on terrestrial planets is obvious from the abundance of craters on their surfaces. On Earth, active geological processes rapidly obliterate the cratering record. To date only about 170 impact structures have been recognized on the Earth’s surface. Mineralogical, petrographic, and geochemical criteria are used to identify the impact origin of such structures or related ejecta layers. The two most important criteria are the presence of shock metamorphic effects in mineral and rock inclusions in breccias and melt rocks, as well as the demonstration, by geochemical techniques, that these rocks contain a minor extraterrestrial component. There is a variety of macroscopic and microscopic shock metamorphic effects. The most important ones include the presence of planar deformation features in rock-forming minerals, high-pressure polymorphs (e.g. of coesite and stishovite from quartz, or diamond from graphite), diaplectic glass, and rock and mineral melts. These features have been studied by traditional methods involving the petrographic microscope, and more recently with a variety of instrumental techniques, including transmission electron microscopy, Raman spectroscopy, cathodoluminescence imaging and spectroscopy, and high-resolution X-ray computed tomography. Geochemical methods to detect an extraterrestrial component include measurements of the concentrations of siderophile elements, mainly of the platinum-group elements (PGEs), and, more recently, chromium and osmium isotopic studies. The latter two methods can provide confirmation that these elements are actually of meteoritic origin. The Cr isotopic method is also capable of providing information on the meteorite type. In impact studies there is now a trend towards the use of interdisciplinary and multi-technique approaches to solve open questions.

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