Four Stages of Planetary Development

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  • 0:03 The Development of Earth
  • 0:47 Differentiation
  • 1:38 Cratering
  • 2:14 Flooding and Slow…
  • 3:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will describe the four stage of planetary development. They are, from past to present, differentiation, cratering, flooding, and slow surface evolution.

The Development of Earth

Your home is built with a bunch of material: wood, brick, metal, plastic, fibers, and glass. Our home, Earth, was also built out of material from the inner solar nebula, which is a cloud of interstellar gas and dust that condensed to form the entire solar system, including the sun and planets. Your home is also built in stages. This foundation has to be put in first, then the frame is put up, then the plumbing goes in, and so forth. In the same fashion, the inner planets, the four terrestrial planets, as well as our moon developed in four important stages. This lesson will explain what they are and it will use Earth as its primary example.


The first stage of planetary development is called differentiation, the settling of dense material, like iron-rich minerals, into the center of a planet and the rising of less dense material, such as silicon-rich minerals, to the surface. Differentiation can be demonstrated at home by plopping some dirt into a cup of water. The rocks in the dirt, the dense stuff, will sink to the bottom right away. The less dense stuff will float near the top. Thus, our Earth has a dense core and a mantle and crust that is less dense than the core.

The Earth underwent differentiation, like the animation of the moon on your screen, when its interior melted thanks to radioactive decay and energy generated by in-falling matter. This melting allowed the Earth's material to sink or swim, depending on density, like the dirt in the cup of water.

In differentiation, dense material sinks and less dense material rises
Differentiation stage of the Moon


The second stage of planetary development is known as cratering, the bombardment of the early Earth by celestial objects, like asteroids. In the early solar system, there were plenty of rocky bodies floating about that cratered the heck out of the terrestrial planets and the moon. Once the solar system cleared itself of these objects, the rate of impacts obviously decreased.

As I'm sure you can understand, cratering could not have occurred until Earth formed a solid surface after differentiation. Otherwise, the rocky debris would've just melted along with the rest of the Earth's molten make-up.

Flooding and Slow Surface Evolution

The third stage of planetary development is known as flooding. There's nothing too difficult about this one. But there's one small catch. The flooding refers to two things.

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