A new study claims that Earth and Mars evolved from collisions between smaller “planetary embryos” in the inner solar system, and scientists hope the findings will improve their understanding of the processes that govern the formation of rocky exoplanets.
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The research contrasts with the other major competing theory of how our planet formed, which is that it grew by accumulating remnants from the outer solar system that drift inward toward the sun.
In comparison, the classic model of late-stage terrestrial planet growth is that planetary embryos from the Moon to Mars collide with each other, eventually resulting in the full-size rocky planets of the Solar System.
In an effort to determine the correct theory of Earth formation, researchers led by the University of Münster analyzed isotopic compositions of titanium, zirconium and molybdenum in samples from 10 Martian meteorites.
It included samples from major chemical reservoirs on Mars, as well as measurements of molybdenum from 17 additional Martian meteorites.
The scientists said that this large sample size allowed them to overcome limitations in previous studies, and compared the isotopic compositions of the early silicate fraction of Earth and Mars with those of different groups of cartilaginous meteorites believed to come from the outer and inner solar system.
This showed that the compositions of all the planets are more consistent with those of the cartilaginous meteorites that come from the inner Solar System, with only a small fraction of the outer Solar System material being present.
Based on these results, the researchers concluded that these cosmic planets could not have formed through the accumulation of large remnants of the outer solar system, but rather
It likely evolved from collisions between the materials of the inner Solar System.
The authors, led by Christoph Burckhardt, of the University of Münster, wrote: ‘There are two fundamentally different processes of rocky planet formation, but it is unclear which are the primary planetary structures of the solar system, formed either by collision between planetary embryos from the inner solar system or by accretion of ‘pebbles’ the size of millimeter from the outer solar system, we showed that the isotopic compositions of Earth and Mars are governed by a two-component admixture of inner solar system materials, including materials from the inner disk not taken from meteorites, while the contribution of outer solar system materials is limited to a few percent of Bloc”.
This disproves the pebble-accumulating origin of the planets but is consistent with the collisional growth from the embryos of the inner solar system.
The lower portion of outer Solar System material on Earth and Mars indicates the presence of a permanent barrier to dust drift in the disk, shedding light on the specific path of formation of rocky planets in the Solar System.
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