Geochemical constraints on core-mantle differentiation in Mercury and the aubrite parent body

1,2,3E.S.Steenstra,2W.van Westrenen
Icarus (in Press) Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2020.113621]
1The Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Science, Washington, DC, USA
2Faculty of Science, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands
3Institute of Mineralogy, University of Münster, Germany
Copyright Elsevier

Differentiation of Mercury and the aubrite parent body (AuPB) at extremely reducing conditions is implied from the low FeO and high S contents of their mantles. Here, the mantle abundances of these elements as derived from remote sensing (in the case of Mercury) and aubrite meteorite analysis are used in conjunction with new experimentally determined metal-silicate partition coefficients at reducing conditions presented in Steenstra et al. (2020a) to quantify the geochemical consequences of core formation in highly reduced planetary bodies. Plausible core compositions of Mercury and the AuPB are assessed, and the distribution of Si and other elements during core formation are quantified.

Combining the new results with previous remote sensing observations of the surface of Mercury it is found that its core is likely to be Si-rich (>4.5–21 wt%). The estimated core Si contents depend mostly on the assumption of C saturation in Mercury’s mantle and the type of bulk composition considered. Calculations for C-free conditions also yield significant quantities of Si in the AuPB core (>6–20 wt%, depending on bulk composition and redox state). The amount of Si in the AuPB core is greatly decreased if C-saturation is assumed.

The new experimental data and related thermodynamic parameterization for predicting the C contents at graphite saturation of FeSi alloys (CCGS) shows that Mercury’s mantle was likely C-saturated following formation of a Si-rich core, allowing for the separation of a graphitic flotation crust. Due to the lower Si contents calculated for the AuPB core under C-saturated conditions, a graphitic flotation crust is unlikely to form in smaller-sized reduced asteroids such as the AuPB.

The Si-rich nature of the AuPB core for C-undersaturated scenarios is expected to have resulted in preferential partitioning of the majority of the volatile siderophile elements (VSE) into the AuPB core. However, depletions for the most volatile VSE cannot be reconciled with core formation depletion only. Their depletions in aubrites require additional depletion from (I) segregating sulfide liquids during AuPB differentiation and/or (II) compatible behavior during mineral-melt fractionation and/or (III) loss of these elements in a vapor phase during and/or after AuPB differentiation.

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