Internal or external magma oceans in the earliest protoplanets – Perspectives from nitrogen and carbon fractionation

Damanveer S. Grewal, Johnny D. Seales, Rajdeep Dasgupta

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume 598, 15 November 2022, 117847



• Fractionation of N and C into the cores of iron meteorite parent bodies via internal and external magma oceans (MOs).
• Internal MOs require very low bulk N and C contents during differentiation to explain their inventories in the parent cores.
• External MOs require distinctly higher bulk N and C contents during differentiation.
• Chondrite N and C data are used to argue for the prevalence of IMOs in the earliest formed protoplanets.”

“Protoplanets growing within ∼1 Ma of the Solar System’s formation underwent large-scale melting due to heat released by the decay of 26Al. When the extent of protoplanetary melting approached magma ocean (MO)-like conditions, alloy melts efficiently segregated from the silicates to form metallic cores. The nature of the MO of a differentiating protoplanet, i.e., internal or external MO (IMO or EMO), not only determines the abundances of life-essential volatiles like nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) in its core and mantle reservoirs but also the timing and mechanism of volatile loss. Whether the earliest formed protoplanets had IMOs or EMOs is, however, poorly understood. Here we model equilibrium N and C partitioning between alloy and silicate melts in the absence (IMO) or presence (EMO) of vapor degassed atmospheres. Bulk N and C inventories of the protoplanets during core formation are constrained for IMOs and EMOs by comparing the predicted N and C abundances in the alloy melts from both scenarios with N and C concentrations in the parent cores of magmatic iron meteorites. Our results show that in comparison to EMOs, protoplanets having IMOs satisfy N and C contents of the parent cores with substantially lower amounts of bulk N and C present in the parent body during core formation. As the required bulk N and C contents for IMOs and EMOs are in the sub-chondritic and chondritic range, respectively, N and C fractionation models alone cannot be used to distinguish the prevalence of these two end-member differentiation regimes. A comparison of N and C abundances in chondrites with their peak metamorphic temperatures suggests that protoplanetary interiors could lose a substantial portion of their N and C inventories with increasing degrees of thermal metamorphism. Provided the thermal metamorphism induced-loss of N and C from the protoplanetary interiors prior to the onset of core formation was efficient, the earliest formed protoplanets, as predicted by previous thermo-chemical models, are more likely to have undergone IMO differentiation resulting in the formation of N- and C-poor cores and mantles overlain by N- and C-rich undifferentiated crusts.”