Solar System Could Have Evolved From Poorly Mixed Elemental Soup

Scientists ponder compositional mismatch between meteorites, Earth

Article ID: 660957

Released: 16-Sep-2016 10:05 AM EDT

Source Newsroom: University of Chicago

  • Credit: Jean Lachat/University of Chicago

    Nicolas Dauphas, the Louis Block Professor in Geophysical Sciences, holds a chondrite meteorite that contains a puzzling mismatch in isotopic composition with Earth’s crust. The mismatch puzzles scientists because they long believed that Earth formed from planetary objects similar to meteorites. Dauphas and his colleagues present research this week in Nature that explains how this mismatch could have come about.

Newswise — Planetary scientists have long believed that the Earth formed from planetary objects similar to meteorites. Then, a decade ago, perplexing new measurements challenged that assumption by showing that the Earth and its supposed “building blocks” actually contain significantly different isotopic compositions.

For the past 10 years, scientists have been trying to understand why. Recent work by the University of Chicago’s Christoph Burkhardt (now at the University of Muenster in Germany) and Nicolas Dauphas, together with their collaborators from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the University of Münster, suggest a new explanation that may help illuminate both the composition of the Earth and the beginnings of the solar system itself.

“These recent measurements contribute to the growing evidence that the meteorites delivered to Earth provide an imperfect match to Earth’s composition,” said Richard Carlson, director of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science. Carlson was one of the scientists who found the compositional mismatch between meteorites and Earth 10 years ago. “This realization opens new views both to how Earth formed and to the bulk chemical composition of our home planet.” The study will be published in the Sept. 15, 2016, issue of Nature.—Carla Reiter

Citation: “A nucleosynthetic origin of the Earth’s anomalous 142Nd composition,” by C. Burkhardt, L.E. Borg, G.A. Brennecka, Q.R. Shollenberger, N. Dauphas, and T. Kleine, Nature, Sept. 15, 2016, doi: 10.1038/nature18956.

Funding: National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Acknowledgement: The meteorites for this study were provided by Philipp Heck, curator of meteorites and director of the Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies at the Field Museum in Chicago.


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