Nature Geoscience: Rates of protoplanetary accretion and differentiation set nitrogen budget of rocky planets

Authors: Damanveer S. Grewal, Rajdeep Dasgupta, Taylor Hough, Alexandra Farnell

Abstract: The effect of protoplanetary differentiation on the fate of life-essential volatiles like nitrogen and carbon and its subsequent effect on the dynamics of planetary growth is unknown. Because the dissolution of nitrogen in magma oceans depends on its partial pressure and oxygen fugacity, it is an ideal proxy to track volatile re-distribution in protoplanets as a function of their sizes and growth zones. Using high pressure-temperature experiments in graphite-undersaturated conditions, here we show that the siderophile (iron-loving) character of nitrogen is an order of magnitude higher than previous estimates across a wide range of oxygen fugacity. The experimental data combined with metal-silicate-atmosphere fractionation models suggest that asteroid-sized protoplanets, and planetary embryos that grew from them, were nitrogen-depleted. However, protoplanets that grew to planetary embryo-size before undergoing differentiation had nitrogen-rich cores and nitrogen-poor silicate reservoirs. Bulk silicate reservoirs of large Earth-like planets attained nitrogen from the cores of latter type of planetary embryos. Therefore, to satisfy the volatile budgets of Earth-like planets during the main stage of their growth, the timescales of planetary embryo accretion had to be shorter than their differentiation timescales, i.e., Moon- to Mars-sized planetary embryos grew rapidly within ~1-2 Myrs of the Solar System’s formation.

Grewal, D.S., Dasgupta, R., Hough, T. et al. Rates of protoplanetary accretion and differentiation set nitrogen budget of rocky planets. Nat. Geosci. (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-021-00733-0

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