Tracking the volatile and magmatic history of Vesta from chromium stable isotope variations in eucrite and diogenite meteorites

Ke Zhu, Paolo A. Sossi, Julien Siebert, Frédéric Moynier

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
In Press, Journal Pre-proof, Available online 1 August 2019


“Although Solar System bodies exhibit large variations in their volatile element abundances, the mechanisms and conditions that lead to these variations remain ambiguous. The howardite-eucrite-diogenite (HED) meteorites that likely sample the asteroid 4 Vesta, provide evidence for extensive volatile depletion on their parent body. Isotopic variations in moderately volatile elements, such as Zn, have been used to track the origin of such volatile loss. Although not nominally volatile, Cr is useful because it has several oxidized gas species that render it volatile under the oxidizing conditions that characterize planetary accretion. As such, volatile loss of Cr has the potential to produce an isotopically light evaporation residue under an equilibrium regime. This contrasts with other moderately volatile elements that show heavy isotope enrichments in the residue following both kinetic or equilibrium fractionation. Here, we report the Cr stable isotope composition of 11 eucrites and four diogenites. The eucrites possess systematically lighter Cr isotope compositions than diogenites, which is onset by the accumulation of isotopically heavy Cr3+-rich orthopyroxene and spinel in diogenites during their magmatic evolution. We estimate for the primary eucrite melt with Mg# ≈ 50, a δ53Cr (53Cr/52Cr deviation relative to NIST SRM 979 in per mile) of -0.22 ± 0.03 ‰ (2SD), lighter than any chondritic meteorite group by ∼0.1 ‰. This deficit may result from either partial melting with residual Cr3+-bearing phases (e.g. chromite) that retain heavy isotopes, or from vapor loss that occurred at equilibrium with a magma ocean on Vesta. Isotopic fractionation during partial melting would necessitate implausibly high Cr contents in the Vestan mantle, and oxygen fugacities high enough to stabilize chromite in the mantle source. Isotopic fractionation during evaporation would require an oxidized vapor and a reduced residue, as predicted by thermodynamic constraints on the composition of the vapor phase above a silicate magma ocean. Therefore, this Cr isotopic deficit between Vesta and chondrites may be caused by Cr loss at relatively high oxygen fugacity in a gas phase at equilibrium with the liquid from which it evolved. Temperatures of volatile loss are estimated to be lower than 2300 K, consistent with loss from a large-scale magma ocean model for formation of Vesta, which may be a common evolutionary stage in accreting planetesimals.”