Accretion and differentiation of early planetary bodies as recorded in the composition of the silicate Earth

1,2Klaus Mezger,1Alessandro Maltese,1,2Hauke Vollstaedt
Icarus (in Press) Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2021.114497]
1Institute for Geology, University of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 1+3, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
2Center for Space and Habitability, University of Bern, Switzerland
Copyright Elsevier

The abundances of the chemical elements and radiogenic isotopes in the silicate Earth provide key information on the composition of planetary building blocks, the accretion process, including its timing, and the early planetary-wide chemical differentiation. The abundances of the lithophile and highly siderophile elements in the bulk silicate Earth can be modeled as a mixture of three distinct components. Component A (proto-Earth) consisted of volatile-element depleted and strongly reduced material to which a highly oxidized component B (impactor, Theia) was added with chondritic element abundances for the refractory elements to slightly depleted in the volatile elements. Finally, a late veneer (component C) added more material with a composition similar to carbonaceous chondrites. These components make up ~85%, ~15% and ~ 0.4% of the mass of the silicate Earth, respectively. The sequence of their accretion led to a first core formation that produced a metallic core and depleted the silicate portion in siderophile elements including most of the Fe. Addition of the oxidized and volatile richer component B was followed by a second core formation event with removal of a sulfide melt and depletion of the mantle in chalcophile and siderophile elements. The final addition of a late chondritic veneer established a near CI-chondritic abundance among the highly siderophile elements, but also among S, Se and Te. The significant chemical differences between the two first and major components imply that they formed in different regions of the solar system and from isotopically distinct material. The homogeneity of the isotopes of refractory elements in the Earth-Moon system then requires a giant impact that was energetic enough to homogenize the material from the two bodies. The combination of the two major components that formed the Earth is contemporaneous with the formation of the Moon. The initial Sr-isotope composition of the Moon indicates that this impact occurred at 4.507 (15) Ga. The most-likely major source for the highly volatile elements, including water on Earth, is the Moon-forming impactor. Thus, the habitability of Earth and its ability to develop plate tectonic processes is the result of the chance collision of proto-Earth with a planetary body that had formed dominantly from material originating beyond the orbit where Earth formed and therefore had accreted a higher amount of volatile elements.

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