Nickel isotopic evidence for late-stage accretion of Mercury-like differentiated planetary embryosOPEN ACCESS 

Shui-Jiong Wang, Wenzhong Wang, Jian-Ming Zhu, Zhongqing Wu, Jingao Liu, Guilin Han, Fang-Zhen Teng, Shichun Huang, Hongjie Wu, Yujian Wang, Guangliang Wu & Weihan Li

Nature Communications, Volume 12, Article number: 294 (2021)


“Earth’s habitability is closely tied to its late-stage accretion, during which impactors delivered the majority of life-essential volatiles. However, the nature of these final building blocks remains poorly constrained. Nickel (Ni) can be a useful tracer in characterizing this accretion as most Ni in the bulk silicate Earth (BSE) comes from the late-stage impactors. Here, we apply Ni stable isotope analysis to a large number of meteorites and terrestrial rocks, and find that the BSE has a lighter Ni isotopic composition compared to chondrites. Using first-principles calculations based on density functional theory, we show that core-mantle differentiation cannot produce the observed light Ni isotopic composition of the BSE. Rather, the sub-chondritic Ni isotopic signature was established during Earth’s late-stage accretion, probably through the Moon-forming giant impact. We propose that a highly reduced sulfide-rich, Mercury-like body, whose mantle is characterized by light Ni isotopic composition, collided with and merged into the proto-Earth during the Moon-forming giant impact, producing the sub-chondritic Ni isotopic signature of the BSE, while delivering sulfur and probably other volatiles to the Earth.”