PerspectivePlanetary Science

Nitrogen in the Solar System

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Science  28 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5982, pp. 1112-1113
DOI: 10.1126/science.1189836

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Nitrogen within the solar system is not isotopically uniform: 15N/14N ratios in planetary objects such as Earth, Mars, and Jupiter range from 1.9 to 5.9 × 10−3 (1), some meteoritic materials exhibit ratios as high as 22 × 10−3 (2), and samples from the lunar surface reveal an unexplained variability between 2.8 and 4.3 × 10−3 (3). These variations are best explained by mixing of isotopically distinct components which could have been carried to the lunar surface by the solar wind or originated from some unknown source. Identifying the compositions and sources of those components will clarify fundamental issues such as how planets accreted and how their atmospheres subsequently evolved.