Crash Chronicles: Relative contribution from comets and carbonaceous asteroids to Earth’s volatile budget in the context of an Early InstabilityOPEN ACCESS 

Sarah Joiret, Sean N. Raymond, Guillaume Avice, Matthew S. Clement

In Press, Journal Pre-proof, Available online 6 March 2024



  • The cometary signature in the atmosphere of the Earth is significantly more noticeable than in the mantle, as suggested by Xe isotopic measurements.
  • An early giant planet instability has been interpreted to be potentially at odds with this dichotomy of Xe signature in Earth’s mantle and atmosphere.
  • We show that the cumulative collision rate of comets relative to carbonaceous asteroids might increase after the Moon-forming impact.
  • This may offer an explanation for the Xe signature dichotomy between the Earth’s mantle and atmosphere, even in the context of an Early Instability.”

“Recent models of solar system formation suggest that a dynamical instability among the giant planets happened within the first 100 Myr after disk dispersal, perhaps before the Moon-forming impact. As a direct consequence, a bombardment of volatile-rich impactors may have taken place on Earth before internal and atmospheric reservoirs were decoupled. However, such a timing has been interpreted to potentially be at odds with the disparate inventories of Xe isotopes in Earth’s mantle compared to its atmosphere. This study aims to assess the dynamical effects of an Early Instability on the delivery of carbonaceous asteroids and comets to Earth, and address the implications for the Earth’s volatile budget. We perform 20 high-resolution dynamical simulations of solar system formation from the time of gas disk dispersal, each starting with 1600 carbonaceous asteroids and 10000 comets, taking into account the dynamical perturbations from an early giant planet instability. Before the Moon-forming impact, the cumulative collision rate of comets with Earth is about 4 orders of magnitude lower than that of carbonaceous asteroids. After the Moon-forming impact, this ratio either decreases or increases, often by orders of magnitude, depending on the dynamics of individual simulations. An increase in the relative contribution of comets happens in 30% of our simulations. In these cases, the delivery of noble gases from each source is comparable, given that the abundance of 132Xe is 3 orders of magnitude greater in comets than in carbonaceous chondrites. The increase in cometary flux relative to carbonaceous asteroids at late times may thus offer an explanation for the Xe signature dichotomy between the Earth’s mantle and atmosphere. Our current model falls short in simultaneously reproducing a 4%–10% carbonaceous contribution to Earth and late accretion dominated by non-carbonaceous material. In future work, it is worth exploring the possibility that a large fraction of Earth’s carbonaceous material was accreted prior to gas disk dispersal. If that were the case, it would strengthen our dynamical explanation for the Xe signature dichotomy, because the contribution of cometary relative to carbonaceous material would strongly increase at later times.”