By assuming the passage of a Red Sun, we were able to explain the orbits of the planets resulting from a temporary gravitational disturbance. As illustrated in the example of Venus,1 the passage of the Red Sun left behind colliders which resulted in even more serious upheavals than those we discovered in the orbits of the planets. The passage of the Red Sun and the smashing of the fifth planet threw a network of orbital cruisers over the planetary system, including a myriad of small asteroids, meteorites and a few giant asteroids running on grazing routes. Even though the largest bolides have disappeared, these legacies made – and still make – the planetary system a dangerous place. Either they collided with planets, were captured to become moons, or were hurled out of the solar system after following a too-narrow swing-by when passing a giant planet.
State of Mars
Taking a look at Mars, we note that this planet also bears the traces of a harsh collision in its axis position and its geology. If we take an obvious step further, we can also associate the impact of a giant asteroid with the loss of Mars’ water and atmosphere. Although Mars was struck less hard – and probably earlier than Venus – being a small planet, it had trouble binding its atmosphere anyway. Numerous traces in the surface geology of Mars (layers of deposits, drainage channels, soil conditions) prove that it once was, at least in its early phase, a water planet.
In February 2021, the Perseverance robot landed on Mars.2 One of the purposes of the mission is the search for microbial life on Mars. This evidence is still pending, but again it has been proven that Mars used to have water. In fact, the robot landed on the bottom of what is now a dried-up lake (Jezero crater, 45 km in diameter), whose shore and a tributary delta are still clearly visible. Boulders and gravel even indicate sporadic roaring water.
There are various explanations for how Mars lost its water. However, these theses are rather a matter of conjecture. In one thesis, the atmospheric gases, including water vapor, rose so high above the ground that Mars’ gravity could not bind them. According to this simplest theory, Mars lost its atmosphere due to its high altitude (pressure drops to 1/e, 32 km above ground). However, this explanation is increasingly proving untenable. Measurements run by the space probe ‘Mars Express’ show that the former ocean would have lost, at best per billion years, a volume equivalent to 2 m of the ocean depth which covered its surface.3 This result rules out the possibility of the loss of all primordial water by diffusion into space. As a new explanation for the lack of surface water, it is now assumed that the water is still present but is deposited deep in the rock. Mars is different to Earth because of the lack of plate tectonics; therefore, the water does not penetrate to the surface anymore.
Another thesis to explain the loss of Mars’ atmosphere and water blames the solar wind that, for a short time, became a solar storm.6 In our model, we would still offer the option that Mars had the misfortune to be hit by the plasma flare of the Red Sun. In this thesis, not the solar wind but the ion storm of a plasma flare robbed the planet of its atmosphere and water. We consider neither our own nor the two other propagated explanations to be probable and prefer an asteroid impact as the more likely cause since this theory can explain the geological features of Mars.
It is striking that Mars is characterized by two geologically different hemispheres. A comparatively flat, hardly structured northern hemisphere is contrasted by a rugged and scarred southern half. The division into two distinctly different hemispheres is surprising, but in addition, Mars unexpectedly exhibits geologically oversized structures, even though it is a small planet.
A huge rift, extending over a continental length and much larger than the Grand Canyon, separates the high plains of the north from the craggy, cratered lowlands of the south. Unlike the Grand Canyon, water certainly did not shape it. The canyon, with its gigantic dimensions, is a geographic peculiarity. Also odd is an outstanding mountain towering high on Mars. Mons Olympus’ peaks rise up to the limit of what is gravitationally permissible. The volcanic cone is higher than any other mountain in the solar system. Its summit towers a whopping 22 km above the mean altitude of the planet and 26 km above its immediate surrounding. Like a huge pimple with a diameter of 600 km, it shapes the face of Mars when viewed from space. Its cone shape with a collapsed tip indicates that the mountain is of volcanic origin. It is difficult to understand how such a small planet came to form such a huge volcano.
Everything is once again connected with everything. We will show that the geological division of Mars and its features are the result of the impact of a giant asteroid, which devastated the southern hemisphere and, at the same time, tilted the axis of the planet. In order to stop the rotation of the pre-Venus, we had to claim a moon-sized colossus. Such a super giant asteroid is not needed to tilt the axis of the small planet Mars, but the analyses will show it had to be fourty times heavier than today’s largest asteroid, Ceres.7
A rough estimate of the torque required leads to the following data. The colliding asteroid must have measured 1,400 km in diameter and its mass was 4.3.1021 kg, if we assume a density of 3,000 kg/m3. The asteroid would then have been about 6% of the mass of the Moon while the Venus collider was comparable to Moon’s mass. Under the assumption that the orbit of the asteroid reached its aphelion at 2.6 AU in the asteroid belt and touched Mars orbit in perihelion, the orbital velocity difference to Mars was 3 km/s.
After entering these data into the calculation, it becomes clear that the torque this asteroid would have exerted on Mars when smashing into the planet would have been sufficient to tilt its axis to its present inclination. In this consideration, we assume an impact velocity of 8 km/s, of which 5 km/s stems from acceleration due to the gravitational force of Mars, plus the 3 km/s from the difference in orbital velocities. The torque would match the tilt if the hypothetical asteroid impacted at a southern latitude of about 50°. Depending on the latitude of impact and the differential velocity, the asteroid’s mass can be proportionally adjusted so that there is a considerable degree of freedom regarding the mass of the collider and its orbit.
The thesis that a large asteroid impacted Mars has consensus among planetologists, who – as we do – cite such an event as an explanation for the inclination of the axis.8 The size of the asteroid, which we have derived from the simple consideration of the torque required, falls within the interval of the masses currently under discussion in planetology. It is derived from the fact that an adequate mass is required to cause the tilt of Mars’ axis and the surface devastation. In his dissertation, G. Leone determines the mass of the impacting asteroid from the crater dimensions and geology of Mars, i.e., essentially from the kinetic energy. In his investigations to get the height of the high plains, he concludes that Mars collided with a dwarf planet of a diameter of 1,000 to 2,000 km and that the impact occurred with a speed difference in the range of 5 to 10 km/s. Since energy is a function of mass and velocity, the range of values for these two parameters is trivially related. If the mass increases, the velocity decreases in parallel to the second power – and vice versa. (In Leone’s analysis, the given lower limit of the velocity interval is irritating. However, considering the escape velocity of Mars of 5 km/s, no difference remains for the orbital velocities.) Regarding mass and orbital velocity, our estimation provides fitting values that lie in the middle of the intervals with which Leone delimits the asteroid in his Mars model. A detailed explanation of Leone’s theory can be found in his dissertation script (ETH Zürich 2016).9 In line with Leone’s assessment, R. Brasser and S. J. Mojzsis conclude that the impact of an asteroid with a diameter of 1,200 km, which is said to have had 0.8% of the mass of Mars (5.1.1021 kg) explains the geology of the planet.10
In the same sense as recent literature does, we argue that Mars is made partially molten by the impact of a giant asteroid and loses its water and atmosphere as a result of this heat shock.11 The released impact energy heated the atmosphere of the whole planet so much that it expanded beyond the extent that bound it to Mars. Mars, already desert and surrounded only by a thin layer of gases, finally lost most of its atmosphere, water, and all life —if it existed at all— in the course of the impact.
We feel confident in our simple theory since it matches the complex models of Mars, which start from considerations based on the planet’s geology. The published theories draw the same conclusions, further supporting our approach. It is hard to imagine a more convincing proof can be forwarded than the agreement in the core data (mass of the asteroid and impact velocity) of two scenarios, each of which assesses a different consequence of the asteroid impact. We primarily pay attention to the tilt, while their focus is on the geology.
Let’s sketch the scene of the collision in greater detail. Before the asteroid reached the surface, the planet’s gravity had fragmented it at its Roche boundary, 6,000 km above the surface. Not a single giant hard bullet, but a shotgun discharge with a central core crashed into the rotating planet in a row. A scattering field of small craters surrounded the main crater. Smaller fragments and a hail of back-falling, ejected debris devastated the area around the impact site. As a result, the dichotomy of the Martian surface was created. The Mars collider hit a cooled-down piece of solid rock. The core of the asteroid punched a giant hole in the crust of Mars and forced its way into the interior of the planet. A significant part of the kinetic energy was converted into heat, which melted crust material and the asteroid. The energy introduced by our hypothetical asteroid (see above the data of our impact model derived from a torque-motivated assumption) was 1.4.1029 J. This amount of energy suffices to heat a rock of 4,000 km in diameter from ambient temperature to 1,200 °C (lava temperature). The kinetic energy is distributed to several energy sinks. In the percentage distribution, about 25% of the total energy is used up for melting and mineralogical transformation of rock. This energy was sufficient to make the asteroid and a large volume of Mars’ crust and mantle viscous.
The gravity of Mars enforced the return of the struck planet into a spherical shape again. This way the giant asteroid got integrated into the rocky, solidified body of Mars. The crater above the sunken asteroid closed. The material in the crater and on its rim, both heated to the point of melting, facilitated the rounding of Mars and the fusion of the asteroid in the planet’s body, in spite of the highly viscous mantle. The plunged asteroid material pressed Martian rock aside, and the sunken debris locally built a layer beneath the Martian crust.
The geological peculiarities continue in extension of Valles Marineris across the giant volcanic cones to the east, where, at a distance of 6000 km from the mighty Olympus Mons (height 21.9 km), the also remarkably huge Elysium Mons (height 12.5 km) rises. It’s not only gigantic mountains that litter the Martian surface but also faults and rifts, providing evidence for brittle deformation throughout the planet’s history. In fact, for our model, we derive evidence from their existence.
Faults extend radially outwards from the Tharsis region, which lies close to the three volcanoes mentioned above. Westward from Elysium Mons, there are Cerberus Fossae in Eastern Elysium Planitia, and further southward, Memnonia and Sirenum Fossae run towards the Valles Mariners. The Cerberus Fossae are up to 600 km long and bisect the Cerberus Plains Unit. The structure of the rifts is uniform. They break off steeply at the edges, and considering their length, they are extremely narrow and straight.12
The results of seismic measurements during Marsquakes severely limit the scope for interpretation.13
Seismicity at 15-50 km depth with slow rupture processes suggests an extensional stress regime located in a warm source region. The observed seismic strain rate is far too low for a constant, slow opening of this feature. This is in agreement with the hypothesis that it was created rapidly in a volcanic eruption 53-210 ka ago. Detailed age estimates range between 53-210 ka, making the fossae one of the youngest features on the Martian surface.
According to current understanding, there exists in this area near to the surface a huge hot mantle plume rising from the liquid core. This plume causes the expansion cracks (fossae).
We state, instead of the otherwise usual geological eons the trench formation is current and moves in the lower time suspiciously to the time at which we hypothesize the passage of the Red Sun. Our model of the impacted asteroid with its structural integration into the planet provides a completely different, plausible explanation. Instead of assuming a funnel from the interior of Mars, which does not break through to the surface, but forms a huge cushion just below (15 to 50 km) it, we assume that the integration of the giant asteroid into Mars bursts its crustal surface.
We arrive at a plausible explanation of Mars’ geology and geography. The sunken asteroid left a depression in the surface of the planet, to us known as the Hellas Basin, and dilated the crust of Mars, which had become too tight after integration of the asteroid’s volume. As a result of this overstretching, the Martian crust cracked. The liquefied rock beneath the crust facilitated the rounding. The freshly melted rock was put under pressure when the Martian body re-rounded. To relieve the pressure, the molten material bored a channel in the interior of Mars along a crust fault. Finally, the pressurized material erupted to form three giant volcanoes (Arsia Mons, Pavonis Mons and Ascraeus Mons). In parallel, the highest mountain of the planetary system, Olympus Mons, rose directly behind the row of three large volcanoes. The giant canyon of Valles Marineris extends in line with our model from the impact basin to the Tharsis Bump and the volcanoes. When the tension relaxed, and the melt ejection came to a standstill, the summits of the volcanoes and the melt channel collapsed. We hypothesize that it was not the tension alone but the combination of crust cracking and lava flow that gave birth to the Valles Marineris. Our explanation is also supported by G. Leone’s geologically based statement that Valles Marineris originates from a collapsed lava flow tunnel.14
Certainly, it is no coincidence that another geological peculiarity of Mars, the Tharsis bulge (diameter 5,000 km and height 10 km), lies at the opposite end of Valles Marineris. These three geological peculiarities of Mars, the depression, the huge canyon and the enormous elevation, are unique and relate to a single event —an asteroid impact. A discussion of the mechanical effects related to the Tharsis bulge is given by A. J. Connell.15
The geology suggests a not-too-violent impact. This fact caused Leone to consider in his model the above-quoted very low differential velocity. The evidence for a similar orbital velocity leads to restrictions in possible effects and has significance for the time classification of the impact. Regarding time, it follows the lower the speed difference, the more similar the orbits and the shorter the time the asteroid can have survived on its orbit before impact. Since the geological facts call for a cooled Mars at the time of impact, the asteroid cannot have collided with the planet in the early days of the planetary system. Since the impactor, because of the similar velocity, circled on an orbit inevitably intersecting the orbit of Mars at a very flat angle, there is no way around the conclusion that Mars was hit by a huge body long after its formation. We have to assert a disturbance of the planetary system turned a giant asteroid into an orbital cruiser of Mars. Again, the model of the passage of the Red Sun, combined with the destruction of Tiamat, makes sense as an explanation for the origin of the Mars collider. Having identified the continental-sized Martian canyon as a tension crack of the crust, this adds a piece to the puzzle but does not remain the only indication for the correctness of the impact as modelled. Supporting our considerations, we find that besides the impact site, the crust is bulged. This elevation we interpret as a consequence of the shock wave and of the internal pressure exercised by the incorporation of the asteroid into the body of Mars.
We state that the formative geology of Mars is not of inner but of cosmic origin. A giant impact-induced volcanism shaped the surface of Mars created the tremendous canyon and left the named volcanic cones as stumps. Erosion did not create Valles Marineris. The giant volcanoes (see Figure B) of Mars do not tower due to internal magma movements. Given it is such a small planet, the intrinsic energy is much too weak to lift elevations of this size to such heights.
Physics explains why after the tilting of Mars, we do not find the impact region in the very southern area of the planet. As stated above, derived from the data on mass and velocity, the impact of the asteroid was assumed to have taken place at a latitude of 50° south. If we add the axis inclination of Mars of 25.2° to this angle, we naively expect to find the site of impact at a polar latitude. This is a geographic location that the current state of Mars obviously doesn’t reflect. The physical explanation is simple. For a rotating body, the gyroscopic laws apply. Therefore, when hit, the axis of the rotating planet tilted perpendicularly to the force acting. Thus, we find the impact-generated structures, such as the Valles Marines, not shifted to the south but to the latitude where the asteroid hit Mars.
In the case of Mars, we have not one but two moons. How do the two small Mars moons, Phobos and Deimos, fit into our model? 18 The morphology and the chemical composition of the two moons exclude that they consist of ejected crustal material of Mars. For classification, we take a closer look at the Martian moon Phobos (Figure C). Its surface, which is characterized by grooves and stripes, seems strange, as does its shape with a crater that is oversized, given the size of Phobos. Despite the enormous crater, the surface and rim do not appear rough but smooth throughout, without ridges or steep edges. The whole surface appears to be sanded.
We explain the craters and the surface structure of all the asteroids as a result of their birth in the environment of an exploded planet. Because of this correspondence with the surface structure of other asteroids, we classify Phobos as a fragment of the planet Tiamat. The shallow craters and a smooth surface indicate the other moon of Mars; Deimos originates from the asteroid belt as well and constitutes another fragment of Tiamat. It is likely that Deimos represents a fragment which stayed so close to the center of the explosion that its surface melted, and the melt smoothed it.
We don’t regard Phobos as a problem; rather, we view this moon as a supplier of information. Because of the appearance of its surface, we consider Phobos to be a former asteroid now circling Mars. Another riddle is its low specific weight of less than 2,000 kg/m3. If Phobos does not exhibit large cavities in its interior, for which no hint exists, its low density suggests it is not a primordial Martian companion. Only the oxides and hydroxides of the light elements and the lightest compounds, such as boric acid or borax, exhibit such a low specific gravity as Phobos has. Already the lightweight compounds sodium and aluminum hydroxide are of too high density to be present as main constituents of this moon. Nevertheless, hydroxides remain, allowing for slight adjustments, the most plausible assumption for the chemical composition of this moon. Within the framework of the Tiamat hypothesis and the enormous quantities of water present in the asteroid belt, it is highly plausible that Al(OH)3, AlO(OH), Mg(OH)2, or silica Si(OH)4 are likely to be formed in the aqueous environment of the debris cloud of the sunken planet. If Phobos consists mainly of hydroxides and physically bound water, this consistency would explain the sporadically measured minimal outgassing of water, which, temporarily, the moons of Mars carry like a tail. Given the existence of a water tail, we depend on the presence of hydroxides and encapsulated water, for free water will not exist on the small moon. The proximity of the Sun, in combination with its tiny gravity, would have made physically bound water sublimate into space long ago.
The tiny cavities left in the lunar body by outgassing water or decaying hydroxides reduce the density and then, despite the low global density, allow the – certainly existing – admixtures of specifically heavy oxides and hydroxides. According to this model, Phobos does not become macroscopic but is now hollow in the micro range. A chemical composition mainly of hydroxides would also match the light, metallic-looking surface of Phobos.
We assume the giant asteroid that impacted Mars brought Deimos and Phobos with it as its satellites. Asteroids which have satellites of their own are nothing exceptional. As discussed, we think that Dactyl didn’t join the asteroid Ida during a capture process but by chance. We take the same view in the case of two companions of the Mars collider. After the destruction of Tiamat, the two small asteroids took, by chance, the same route as the huge Martian collider and became Mars’ satellites. Unlike the impacting large mother asteroid, its two small companions missed the planet but became moons of Mars. The tearing apart of the group took work that was extracted from the kinetic energy of the cluster. The motion against the gravitational energy which had bound the Martian moons to the impacting mother asteroid slowed them down. This breakup, enhanced by other energy-consuming effects, mainly swing-by, reduced the speed of the asteroid’s moons to such an extent that they were switched from companions of the impacting mini planet into moons of Mars. The gravitational interaction and swing-by, as well as the stopping of the rotation of the moons during the close encounter with Mars, will have led them to lose part of their kinetic energy.
Deformation in the gravity gradient of the nearby planet could have stopped rotation and, this way have forced the moons into their present bound rotation. Thus, today’s bound rotation is easily derived as a potential side effect of the capturing process.
The almost equal inclination of the orbital planes of the moons, the difference being less than 1°, speaks for the common origin and their simultaneous capture by Mars. The two moons orbit Mars near to the equatorial plane, which roughly reflects the velocity vector of the parent asteroid before collision. In Appendix B, we will examine the orbits of bound objects whose bond is torn apart by the gravity of a planet. As an example, we will investigate the system of Neptune and its moon Triton.
The moons approached Mars with a velocity in which the main component was laying in the ecliptic, and the deceleration by swing-by and other braking effects explains, in general, the present orbital plane and the capture of the moons. However, this does not explain the circular orbits and their bound rotation. Geological tidal effects as a cause for energy consumption in periares (distance closest to Mars in an elliptical lunar orbit) and thus orbit rounding is difficult to argue, as the moons are of such a small size. At best, it is potentially applicable in the case of Phobos, which orbits Mars critically close to the Roche boundary (semimajor axis 9,376 km, or 6,000 km above ground), leading to a correspondingly large gravity gradient over its diameter.
Alternatively, perhaps a temporarily inflated Martian atmosphere, for example, in the heat of the asteroid impact, withdrew kinetic energy by friction from the moons in the periares of their orbits. This braking caused the orbits to become circular. Again, this argument may be a good one for Phobos, but Deimos’ distance to Mars is too great to consider atmospheric braking as the cause of the circular orbit. Also, Phobos’ orbit is less circular than that of Deimos, which ruins the argument.
A possible explanation for the circular orbits is that they came about because the pre-capture velocity, reduced by the energy that bound the moons to the parent asteroid and the other braking effects, happened to be close to today’s orbital velocity. We assess this shaky reasoning by way of a physical estimate. The unsnapping, in this case, the sudden absence of the bond to the parent asteroid, slows down a satellite. If we assume a 1,200 km diameter mini planet with a mass of 5.1.1021 kg (values by R. Brasser and S. J. Mojzsis), in case of a narrow orbit of 2,000 km around the parent asteroid, the deceleration would be about 600 m/s. An additional deceleration of maximum 100 m/s would result if the two moons had been, prior to the impact of their parent asteroid, close neighbors and gravitationally bound to each other. For capturing – especially in view of the assumed low relative velocity between the asteroid and Mars – this deceleration, in combination with swing-by, is perfectly sufficient. However, these considerations do not explain the present circular orbits.
The most likely reason for circular orbits is resonance. The two small moons of Mars orbit very close to a 4:1 resonance. This resonance interaction could have forced the tiny Mars moons to move into their orbits despite the weak gravitational interaction. On the other hand, resonance is a very sharp sword. In particular, if we consider how frenzied the ticking clock is when counting the rate of orbits on the geological scale. In fact, resonance is the best argument we can offer to explain the circular orbits. With this explanation, however, we move into what is highly speculative. We’d better end the guesswork.
In summary, we refute the view of planetology that places the cause of the geological dichotomy of Mars in the early period of the planetary system. The dichotomy and the fresh lava flow channel of Valles Marineris, formed under a solidified crust, require an impact into a cooled-down planet. We attribute the high crater density of the Martian surface to Mars being next-door to the destroyed Tiamat. As a consequence, it was far more battered by asteroid impacts than Earth – see also the above long-term simulations analyzing the orbits of Tiamat fragments. All the debris that crossed Jupiter’s orbit experienced Jupiter’s action as a catapult for orbit changes. Jupiter’s gravity could easily hurl these asteroids either out of the solar system or equally make them orbital crossers of the inner planets.
2 N. Mangold et al.; https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abl4051
6 Alexander Bößwetter, https://www.mps.mpg.de/phd/theses/interaction-of-mars-with-the-solar-wind.pdf
9 Giovanni Leone; Hypothesis for the Origin of the Martian Dichotomy and the evolution of Volcanism on Mars; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303941123
10 R. Brasser and S. J. Mojzsis; https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1706/1706.02014.pdf
13 Simon C. Stähler et al. MARSQUAKES INDICATE DIKE-INDUCED TECTONICS IN CERBERUS FOSSAE, MARS; https://arxiv.org/pdf/2206.15136.pdf
15 A. J. ConnelL Monthly Notices Royal astr. Soc., 222, p. 560-576 (1986)
18 G. Budde, C. Burkhardt und T. Kleine; Molybdenum isotopic evidence for the late accretion of outer Solar System material to Earth; Nature Astronomy. Vol. 3, 736–741 (2019)