Significant depletion of volatile elements in the mantle of asteroid Vesta due to core formation

E.S. Steenstra, D. Dankers, J. Berndt, S. Klemme, S. Matveev, W. van Westrenen

Available online 5 September 2018


• Vestan mantle volatile element depletions do not only reflect degassing.
• Many volatile elements partition into the Vestan core during core formation.
• The Vestan core can be a major reservoir for volatile elements.”

“Vesta, the second-largest body in the asteroid belt, is believed to be a prime example of a rocky protoplanet. Studies of the HED (Howardite – Eucrite – Diogenite) meteorite suite, considered to be sourced from the mantle of Vesta, provide insight into protoplanet differentiation processes. Eucrites and diogenites are depleted in many volatile elements, but the depletions of many volatile siderophile elements are not well constrained. Although previous work indicated that the Vestan core equilibrated with its mantle in a global melting event, the possible contribution of core formation to the volatile budget of HED meteorites has not been assessed to date. This prohibits an assessment of the overall volatile depletion systematics of Vesta.

Here, we use a compilation of published volatile siderophile element (VSE; C, S, Zn, As, Se, Cd, In, Sb, Te, Tl, Pb, Bi) abundances in diogenites and eucrites to constrain their depletions in the Vestan mantle. We assess to what extent these depletions may be volatility-related, caused by partitioning into sulfides in the mantle, and/or a result of their preferential partitioning into the Vestan core during core-mantle equilibration. Our new estimates for VSE depletions in the Vestan mantle show no correlation with condensation temperature, suggesting the depletions are difficult to reconcile with partial condensation or degassing during accretionary processes only. Sulfide saturation of the diogenite and eucrite source region is also unlikely because of low indigenous S abundances in these samples compared to calculated S contents at sulfide saturation. Consideration of the metal-silicate partitioning behavior of the VSE shows that most of these elements are sufficiently siderophile to explain a significant part of their observed depletions in the Vestan mantle by their preferential partitioning into a S-rich core.

Moderately volatile elements As and Sb both appear more abundant in the Vestan mantle than expected from their highly siderophile behaviour in systems with basaltic melts. These apparent overabundances may be related to strong silicate melt compositional effects on their metal-silicate partitioning behavior. On the other hand, Zn, and to a lesser extent Te and Tl are significantly more depleted than expected from metal-silicate partitioning alone. This could be evidence for volatile loss of these elements from Vesta through kinetic loss in a hard vacuum. Alternatively, the perceived loss of Zn may be the result of a Zn-poor Vestan bulk composition and/or partly by preferential partitioning of Zn into spinel. The additional depletion of Tl and by extension other highly chalcophile elements such as Se and Te may be explained by segregation of sulfides in the eucritic melt source region(s), if significant amounts of S degassed from eucritic melts after sulfide segregation.

Our results underline the feasibility of planetary cores being a major reservoir for many volatile elements that are depleted in planetary mantles, and that are currently assumed to have suffered incomplete condensation during accretion or (partial) degassing after accretion.”