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Unmanned space probes have yielded significant data on the surface features of many of the planets and their satellites.
Seismology, for example, involves the exploration of the Earth’s deep structure through the detailed analysis of recordings of elastic waves generated by earthquakes and man-made explosions.Geochemistry is the study of the composition of these different types of rocks.During mountain building, rocks became highly deformed, and the primary objective of structural geology is to elucidate the mechanism of formation of the many types of structures (e.g., folds and faults) that arise from such deformation.Many rocks have a more complex mineralogy, and in some the mineral particles are so minute that they can be identified only through specialized techniques.It is possible to identify an individual mineral in a specimen by examining and testing its physical properties.The problems and techniques of mineralogy, however, are distinct in many respects from those of the rest of geology, with the result that mineralogy has grown to be a large, complex discipline in itself.
About 3,000 distinct mineral species are recognized, but relatively few are important in the kinds of rocks that are abundant in the outer part of the Earth.
Thus a few minerals such as the feldspars, quartz, and mica are the essential ingredients in granite and its near relatives.
Limestones, which are widely distributed on all continents, consist largely of only two minerals, calcite and dolomite.
Earthquake seismology has largely been responsible for defining the location of major plate boundaries and of the dip of subduction zones down to depths of about 700 kilometres at those boundaries.
In other subdisciplines of geophysics, gravimetric techniques are used to determine the shape and size of underground structures; electrical methods help to locate a variety of mineral deposits that tend to be good conductors of electricity; and paleomagnetism has played the principal role in tracking the drift of continents.
The geologic time scale, back to the oldest rocks, some 4,280,000,000 years ago, can be quantified by isotopic dating techniques.