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Chemical fractionation in the silicate vapor atmosphere of the Earth

Pahlevan, Kaveh and Stevenson, David J. and Eiler, John M. (2011) Chemical fractionation in the silicate vapor atmosphere of the Earth. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 301 (3-4). pp. 433-443. ISSN 0012-821X.

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Despite its importance to questions of lunar origin, the chemical composition of the Moon is not precisely known. In recent years, however, the isotopic composition of lunar samples has been determined to high precision and found to be indistinguishable from the terrestrial mantle despite widespread isotopic heterogeneity in the Solar System. In the context of the giant-impact hypothesis, this level of isotopic homogeneity can evolve if the proto-lunar disk and post-impact Earth undergo turbulent mixing into a single uniform reservoir while the system is extensively molten and partially vaporized. In the absence of liquid–vapor separation, such a model leads to the lunar inheritance of the chemical composition of the terrestrial magma ocean. Hence, the turbulent mixing model raises the question of how chemical differences arose between the silicate Earth and Moon. Here we explore the consequences of liquid–vapor separation in one of the settings relevant to the lunar composition: the silicate vapor atmosphere of the post-giant-impact Earth. We use a model atmosphere to quantify the extent to which rainout can generate chemical differences by enriching the upper atmosphere in the vapor, and show that plausible parameters can generate the postulated enhancement in the FeO/MgO ratio of the silicate Moon relative to the Earth's mantle. Moreover, we show that liquid–vapor separation also generates measurable mass-dependent isotopic offsets between the silicate Earth and Moon and that precise silicon isotope measurements can be used to constrain the degree of chemical fractionation during this earliest period of lunar history. An approach of this kind has the potential to resolve long-standing questions on the lunar chemical composition.

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Stevenson, David J.0000-0001-9432-7159
Additional Information:© 2010 Elsevier B.V. Received 6 November 2009; revised 27 October 2010; accepted 27 October 2010. Editor: T.M. Harrison. Available online 15 December 2010. We would like to thank Paul Asimow, for lending his uncommon expertise in thermodynamics, Edwin Schauble for sharing the results of his isotopic calculations, Nicolas Dauphas for helpful discussions and comments on the manuscript, and Paul Warren and an anonymous reviewer for thorough, insightful reviews that greatly helped to improve the manuscript.
Subject Keywords:Moon; origin; composition; silicon; isotope
Issue or Number:3-4
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20110309-164516424
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Official Citation:Kaveh Pahlevan, David J. Stevenson, John M. Eiler, Chemical fractionation in the silicate vapor atmosphere of the Earth, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Volume 301, Issues 3-4, 15 January 2011, Pages 433-443, ISSN 0012-821X, DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2010.10.036. (
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:22788
Deposited By: Jason Perez
Deposited On:10 Mar 2011 19:12
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 02:40

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