skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, May 23 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, May 24 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: Earth and Mars – Distinct inner solar system products
Composition of terrestrial planets records planetary accretion, core–mantle and crust–mantle differentiation, and surface processes. Here we compare the compositional models of Earth and Mars to reveal their characteristics and formation processes. Earth and Mars are equally enriched in refractory elements (1.9 × CI), although Earth is more volatile-depleted and less oxidized than Mars. Their chemical compositions were established by nebular fractionation, with negligible contributions from post-accretionary losses of moderately volatile elements. The degree of planetary volatile element depletion might correlate with the abundances of chondrules in the accreted materials, planetary size, and their accretion timescale, which provides insights into composition and origin of Mercury, Venus, the Moon-forming giant impactor, and the proto-Earth. During its formation before and after the nebular disk’s lifetime, the Earth likely accreted more chondrules and less matrix-like materials than Mars and chondritic asteroids, establishing its marked volatile depletion. A giant impact of an oxidized, differentiated Mars-like (i.e., composition and mass) body into a volatile-depleted, reduced proto-Earth produced a Moon forming debris ring with mostly a proto-Earth’s mantle composition. Chalcophile and some siderophile elements in the silicate Earth added by the Mars-like impactor were extracted into the core by a sulfide melt (~0.5% of the mass of the Earth’s mantle). In contrast, the composition of Mars indicates its rapid accretion of lesser amounts of chondrules under nearly uniform oxidizing conditions. Mars’ rapid cooling and early loss of its dynamo likely led to the absence of plate tectonics and surface water, and the present-day low surface heat flux. These similarities and differences between the Earth and Mars made the former habitable and the other inhospitable to uninhabitable.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Chemie der Erde
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract Earth’s habitability is closely tied to its late-stage accretion, during which impactors delivered the majority of life-essential volatiles. However, the nature of these final building blocks remains poorly constrained. Nickel (Ni) can be a useful tracer in characterizing this accretion as most Ni in the bulk silicate Earth (BSE) comes from the late-stage impactors. Here, we apply Ni stable isotope analysis to a large number of meteorites and terrestrial rocks, and find that the BSE has a lighter Ni isotopic composition compared to chondrites. Using first-principles calculations based on density functional theory, we show that core-mantle differentiation cannot produce the observed light Ni isotopic composition of the BSE. Rather, the sub-chondritic Ni isotopic signature was established during Earth’s late-stage accretion, probably through the Moon-forming giant impact. We propose that a highly reduced sulfide-rich, Mercury-like body, whose mantle is characterized by light Ni isotopic composition, collided with and merged into the proto-Earth during the Moon-forming giant impact, producing the sub-chondritic Ni isotopic signature of the BSE, while delivering sulfur and probably other volatiles to the Earth. 
    more » « less
  2. Earth’s status as the only life-sustaining planet is a result of the timing and delivery mechanism of carbon (C), nitrogen (N), sulfur (S), and hydrogen (H). On the basis of their isotopic signatures, terrestrial volatiles are thought to have derived from carbonaceous chondrites, while the isotopic compositions of nonvolatile major and trace elements suggest that enstatite chondrite–like materials are the primary building blocks of Earth. However, the C/N ratio of the bulk silicate Earth (BSE) is superchondritic, which rules out volatile delivery by a chondritic late veneer. In addition, if delivered during the main phase of Earth’s accretion, then, owing to the greater siderophile (metal loving) nature of C relative to N, core formation should have left behind a subchondritic C/N ratio in the BSE. Here, we present high pressure-temperature experiments to constrain the fate of mixed C-N-S volatiles during core-mantle segregation in the planetary embryo magma oceans and show that C becomes much less siderophile in N-bearing and S-rich alloys, while the siderophile character of N remains largely unaffected in the presence of S. Using the new data and inverse Monte Carlo simulations, we show that the impact of a Mars-sized planet, having minimal contributions from carbonaceous chondrite-like material and coinciding with the Moon-forming event, can be the source of major volatiles in the BSE. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Earth likely acquired much of its inventory of volatile elements during the main stage of its formation. Some of Earth’s proto-atmosphere must therefore have survived the giant impacts, collisions between planet-sized bodies, that dominate the latter phases of accretion. Here, we use a suite of 1D hydrodynamic simulations and impedance-match calculations to quantify the effect that preimpact surface conditions (such as atmospheric pressure and the presence of an ocean) have on the efficiency of atmospheric and ocean loss from protoplanets during giant impacts. We find that—in the absence of an ocean—lighter, hotter, and lower-pressure atmospheres are more easily lost. The presence of an ocean can significantly increase the efficiency of atmospheric loss compared to the no-ocean case, with a rapid transition between low- and high-loss regimes as the mass ratio of atmosphere to ocean decreases. However, contrary to previous thinking, the presence of an ocean can also reduce atmospheric loss if the ocean is not sufficiently massive, typically less than a few times the atmospheric mass. Volatile loss due to giant impacts is thus highly sensitive to the surface conditions on the colliding bodies. To allow our results to be combined with 3D impact simulations, we have developed scaling laws that relate loss to the ground velocity and surface conditions. Our results demonstrate that the final volatile budgets of planets are critically dependent on the exact timing and sequence of impacts experienced by their precursor planetary embryos, making atmospheric properties a highly stochastic outcome of accretion.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Volatiles from the solar nebula are known to be present in Earth's deep mantle. The core also may contain solar nebula‐derived volatiles, but in unknown amounts. Here we use calculations of volatile ingassing and degassing to estimate the abundance of primordial3He now in the core and track the rate of3He exchange between the core and mantle through Earth history. We apply an ingassing model that includes a silicate magma ocean and an iron‐rich proto‐core coupled to a nebular atmosphere of solar composition to calculate the amounts of3He acquired by the mantle and core during accretion and core formation. Using experimentally determined partitioning between core‐forming metals and silicate magma, we find that dissolution from the nebular atmosphere deposits one or more petagrams of3He into the proto‐core. Following accretion,3He exchange depends on the convective history of the coupled core‐mantle system. We combine determinations of the present‐day surface3He flux with estimates of the present‐day mantle3He abundance, mantle and core heat fluxes, and our ingassed3He abundances in a convective degassing model. According to this model, the mantle3He abundance is evolving toward a statistical steady state, in which surface losses are compensated by enrichments from the core.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) are differentiated into three layers: a metallic core, a silicate shell (mantle and crust), and a volatile envelope of gases, ices, and, for the Earth, liquid water. Each layer has different dominant elements (e.g., increasing iron content with depth and increasing oxygen content to the surface). Chondrites, the building blocks of the terrestrial planets, have mass and atomic proportions of oxygen, iron, magnesium, and silicon totaling ≥ 90% and variable Mg/Si (∼ 25%), Fe/Si (factor of ≥2), and Fe/O (factor of ≥ 3). What remains an unknown is to what degree did physical processes during nebular disk accretion versus those during post-nebular disk accretion (e.g., impact erosion) influence these planets final bulk compositions. Here we predict terrestrial planet compositions and show that their core mass fractions and uncompressed densities correlate with their heliocentric distance, and follow a simple model of the magnetic field strength in the protoplanetary disk. Our model assesses the distribution of iron in terms of increasing oxidation state, aerodynamics, and a decreasing magnetic field strength outward from the Sun, leading to decreasing core size of the terrestrial planets with radial distance. This distribution enhances habitability in our solar system and may be equally applicable to exoplanetary systems.

    more » « less