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Current Issue of Nature


Current Issue : Nature

Current Issue

Volume 549 Number 7673 pp432-558

28 September 2017

About the cover

Earth was formed through the collisions of countless planetesimals. These building blocks are today represented by meteorites, the elemental compositions of some of which, the carbonaceous chondrites, are thought to reflect the chemistry of the early Solar System. As such, Earth's chemical make-up ought to be similar to these meteorites and in many respects it is. Earth is, however, strongly depleted in moderately volatile elements such as lead, zinc and indium. A potential explanation for these depletions is that these elements evaporated from molten rock during the planet-forming processes and in this week's issue, Ashley Norris and Bernard Wood interrogate this idea further, resolving some of the inconsistencies seen in earlier proposals. By melting basaltic rock in a furnace under controlled conditions, the researchers examined the melting processes that would have occurred during the accretion of Earth and its precursor bodies. They found that the pattern of depletion of volatile elements is consistent with partial melting and vaporization of the early Earth, and suggest that this occurred on small molten precursors or during energetic collisions — such as the violent impact with Earth that formed the Moon. The cover shows one such instance of the proto-Earth and a nearby planetesimal. Heated by collisions and the decay of aluminium-26, the bodies degas volatile elements, forming thick atmospheres, which are ultimately swept to interstellar space by the solar wind, removing the volatile elements from the final composition of the planet. In related work, Remco Hin and his colleagues provide further evidence to support the idea of vaporization by the measuring the ratios of magnesium isotopes in Earth, Mars and some asteroids. Cover image: C. Ashley Norris

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