Missing chromium is clue to planet formation

Feb 24, 2011

Early in the formation of the Earth, some forms of the element chromium separated and disappeared deep into the planet's core, a new study by UC Davis geologists shows.

The finding, to be published online by the journal Science Feb. 24, will help scientists understand the early stages of , said Qing-Zhu Yin, professor of geology at UC Davis and coauthor on the paper.

Yin, former postdoctoral scholar Frederic Moynier and Edwin Schauble of the Department and Earth and Space Sciences at UCLA used specialized equipment at UC Davis to make very exact measurements of chromium isotopes in meteorites, compared to rocks from the Earth's crust, and use modern high performance computers to simulate environment.

They studied a class of meteorites called chondrites, which are leftovers from the formation of the solar system over four and half billion years ago.

As well as adding shiny, rust-proof surfaces to metalwork, chromium adds color to emeralds and rubies. It exists as four stable (non-radioactive) isotopes with atomic masses of 50, 52, 53 and 54.

It has been known for decades that chromium isotopes are relatively underrepresented in the Earth's mantle and crust, Yin said. That could either be because they were volatile and evaporated into space, or got sucked into the Earth's deep core at some point.

By making very accurate measurements of chromium isotopes in the meteorites compared to Earth rocks and comparing them to theoretical predictions, the researchers were able to show for the first time that the lighter isotopes preferentially go into the core. From this the team inferred that some 65 percent of the missing chromium is most likely in the Earth's core.

Furthermore, the separation must have happened early in the planet building process, probably in the multiple smaller bodies that assembled into the Earth or when the was still molten but smaller than today.

Explore further: Lava from Hawaii volcano picks up speed

Provided by University of California - Davis

3.3 /5 (3 votes)

Related Stories

Arctic rocks offer new glimpse of primitive Earth

Aug 11, 2010

Scientists have discovered a new window into the Earth's violent past. Geochemical evidence from volcanic rocks collected on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic suggests that beneath it lies a region of the Earth's mantle ...

What Genesis Solar Particles Can Tell Us

Sep 22, 2004

The recent crash of NASA's Genesis space probe may have looked like bad news for scientists, but its cargo of particles captured from the sun should still yield useful information, according to Qing-Zhu Yin, a planetary scientist at UC Davis. ...

Atomic Particles Help Solve Planetary Puzzle

Nov 10, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A University of Arkansas professor and his colleagues have shown that the Earth's mantle contains the same isotopic signatures from magnesium as meteorites do, suggesting that the planet formed ...

For the First Time, a Five-Fold Bond

Oct 14, 2005

Chemists at UC Davis have made the first stable compound with a five-fold bond between two metal atoms. The work with chromium could give researchers new insights into the nature of chemical bonding.

Recommended for you

Icelandic volcano sits on massive magma hot spot

Oct 24, 2014

Spectacular eruptions at Bárðarbunga volcano in central Iceland have been spewing lava continuously since Aug. 31. Massive amounts of erupting lava are connected to the destruction of supercontinents and ...

NASA sees Tropical Storm Ana still vigorous

Oct 24, 2014

NASA's TRMM satellite saw that Tropical Storm Ana was still generating moderate rainfall is it pulled away from Hawaii. The next day, NASA's Aqua satellite saw that wind shear was having an effect on the ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

kevinrtrs
2.4 / 5 (5) Feb 24, 2011
So what would be the mechanism that forces the lighter isotopes to go deeper into the core?
What model was used to predict what the outcome should be?
One is left with some searching questions. I suppose it's in order to go read the original paper.....
unknownorgin
not rated yet Feb 25, 2011
Unless they took rock samples in a grid pattern accross the entire planet and ground them up to fine powder and mixed it up to get an average sample ,I dont see how they can acurately measure isotope levels because some areas have alot of one element while 100 miles away you might find very little of the same element.