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Published February 1977 | public
Journal Article

Earth and Venus: A comparative study


The observed density of Venus is about 2% smaller than would be expected if Venus were a twin planet of the Earth, possessing an identical internal composition and structure. In principle, this could be explained by a process of physical segregation of metal particles from silicate particles in the solar nebula prior to accretion, so that Venus accreted from relatively metal-depleted material. However, this model encounters severe difficulties in explaining the nature of the physical segregation process and also the detailed chemical composition of the Earth's mantle. Two alternative hypotheses are examined, both of which attempt to explain the density difference in terms of chemical fractionation processes. Both of these hypotheses assume that the relative abundances of the major elements Fe, Si, Mg, Al, and Ca are similar in both planets. According to the first hypothesis, a larger proportion of the total iron in Venus is present as iron oxide in the mantle, so that the core-to-mantle ratio is smaller than in the Earth. This model implies that Venus is more oxidized than the Earth, with its lower intrinsic density (i.e., corrected to equivalent pressures and temperatures) due to the larger amount of oxygen present. The difference between oxidation states is attributed to differing degrees of accretional heating arising from the relatively smaller mass of Venus. On the other hand, the second hypothesis maintains that Venus is more reduced than the Earth, with its mantle essentially devoid of oxidized iron. The difference intrinsic densities is attributed to the Earth accreting at a lower temperature than Venus as a result of the Earth's greater distance from the center of the nebula. As a result, large amounts of sulfur accreted on the Earth but not on Venus. The sulfur, which entered the core, is believed to have increased the mean density of the Earth because of its relatively high atomic weight. The hypothesis also implies that most of the Earth's potassium, because of its chalcophile properties, entered the core. These hypotheses are evaluated in the light of existing data. The second hypothesis leads to an intrinsic density for Venus which is only 0.4% smaller than that of the Earth. This difference is much smaller than is believed to exist. A wide range of chemical evidence is found to be unfavorable to this second hypothesis, but to be consistent with the interpretation that Venus is more oxidized than the Earth, as required by the first hypothesis.

Additional Information

© 1977 by Academic Press, Inc. Received January 19, 1976; revised May 15, 1976. One of us (D.L.A.) would like to acknowledge support from the Australian-American Educational Foundation and from NASA, Grant NGL 05-002-069 (Contribution No. 2706, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology). Helpful comments upon the manuscript by Dr. Robin Brett and by the referees are also appreciated.

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