Book Review: Planetary Tectonics examines otherworldly landforms


A moasic photo of part of the Moon’s southern Mare Serenitatis showing wrinkle ridges.

In recent decades, manned and unmanned spacecraft have taken hundreds of thousands of detailed photographs of the terrestrial planets in our solar system, the distant outer planets and various asteroids, comets and planetary satellites. Much of the geology that has emerged from the study of these photographs is spelled out in the new book Planetary Tectonics, edited by Thomas Watters, senior scientist at the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and Richard Schultz, Professor of Geological Engineering and Geomechanics at the University of Nevada.

This new book is a primer on the many different surface features that exist on the planets  in our solar system, the internal and external forces that created these features and what they reveal about the conditions on the planets where they are found. From the wrinkle ridges of the moon, to the surface grooves of an asteroid or the fracture belts of Venus, Planetary Tectonics is a studious look at the complex interplay of powerful forces that act upon planetary crusts and the mechanical properties of the crusts themselves.

The number and diversity of tectonic landforms in our solar system “is truly remarkable,” Watters and Schultz write in the preface of their book. Photographs of these structures have stimulated a range of scholarly investigations, “from the characterization and modeling of individual classes of tectonic landforms to the assessment of regional and global tectonic systems,” the scientists write. Planetary Tectonics is an overview of the major themes of this research as they relate to each planet and small body. The book contains methods for mapping and analyzing planetary tectonic features and is illustrated with many diagrams and spectacular images. Planetary Tectonics, which is extensively referenced, provides a springboard to other sources of information, and is an essential reference for researchers and students alike. Published by Cambridge University Press, additional information about this new volume can be accessed at the Web address:



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