Geo-scientific planetary research of the last 25 years has revealed the global structure and evolution of the terrestrial planets Moon, Mercury, Venus and Mars. The evolution of the terrestrial bodies involves a differentiation into heavy metallic cores, Fe-and Mg-rich silicate mantles and light Ca, Al-rich silicate crusts early in the history of the solar system. Magnetic measurements yield a weak dipole field for Mercury, a very weak field (and local anomalies) for the Moon and no measurable field for Venus and mars. Seismic studies of the Moon show a crust-mantle boundary at an average depth of 60 km for the front side, P- and S-wave velocities around 8 respectively 4.5 km s−1 in the mantle and a considerable S-wave attenuation below a depth of 1000 km. Satellite gravity permits the study of lateral density variations in the lithosphere. Additional contributions come from photogeology, orbital particle, x-and ψ-ray measurements, radar and petrology.
The cratered surfaces of the smaller bodies Moon and Mercury have been mainly shaped by meteorite impacts followed by a period of volcanic flows into the impact basins until about 3×109 yr before present. Mars in addition shows a more developed surface. Its northern half is dominated by subsidence and younger volcanic flows. It even shows a graben system (rift) in the equatorial region. Large channels and relics of permafrost attest the role of water for the erosional history. Venus, the most developed body except Earth, shows many indications of volcanism, grabens (rifts) and at least at northern latitudes collisional belts, i.e. mountain ranges, suggesting a limited plate tectonic process with a possible shallow subduction.