Protracted core formation and rapid accretion of protoplanets

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Science  06 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6188, pp. 1150-1154
DOI: 10.1126/science.1251766

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The chronology of planetary embryos

Protoplanets, or early planetary embryos such as iron meteorite parent bodies, formed in the early protoplanetary disk from dust, debris, and planetesimals. Defining the precise chronology of accretion and differentiation—including core formation—of these planetary embryos will aid in a richer understanding of the chemical evolution of the solar system. Through high-precision tungsten isotope measurements, Kruijer et al. show that the timing of accretion and core formation for iron meteorite groups falls within 0.6 to 2 million years of the age of the solar system (see the Perspective by Elliott). Differences of timing within this group are probably a function of volatile contents of the parent bodies or spatial and chemical heterogeneity within the protoplanetary disk.

Science, this issue p. 1150; see also p. 1086


Understanding core formation in meteorite parent bodies is critical for constraining the fundamental processes of protoplanet accretion and differentiation within the solar protoplanetary disk. We report variations of 5 to 20 parts per million in 182W, resulting from the decay of now-extinct 182Hf, among five magmatic iron meteorite groups. These 182W variations indicate that core formation occurred over an interval of ~1 million years and may have involved an early segregation of Fe-FeS and a later segregation of Fe melts. Despite this protracted interval of core formation, the iron meteorite parent bodies probably accreted concurrently ~0.1 to 0.3 million years after the formation of Ca-Al–rich inclusions. Variations in volatile contents among these bodies, therefore, did not result from accretion at different times from an incompletely condensed solar nebula but must reflect local processes within the nebula.

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