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Partitioning of oxygen during core formation on the Earth and Mars


Core formation on the Earth and Mars involved the physical separation of metal and silicate, most probably in deep magma oceans1,2,3,4. Although core-formation models explain many aspects of mantle geochemistry, they have not accounted for the large differences observed between the compositions of the mantles of the Earth (8?wt% FeO) and Mars (18?wt% FeO) or the smaller mass fraction of the martian core5,6,7. Here we explain these differences as a consequence of the solubility of oxygen in liquid iron-alloy increasing with increasing temperature. We assume that the Earth and Mars both accreted from oxidized chondritic material. In a terrestrial magma ocean, 1,200–2,000?km deep, high temperatures resulted in the extraction of FeO from the silicate magma ocean owing to high solubility of oxygen in the metal. Lower temperatures of a martian magma ocean resulted in little or no extraction of FeO from the mantle, which thus remains FeO-rich. The FeO extracted from the Earth's magma ocean may have contributed to chemical heterogeneities in the lowermost mantle8, a FeO-rich D″ layer9 and the light element budget of the core10,11.

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Figure 1: Oxygen partitioning results.
Figure 2: Extrapolations of the oxygen solubility data to higher temperatures and pressures (a and b) using equation (2).
Figure 3: Results of the metal–silicate separation model for Earth (a) and Mars (b).


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We thank H. Fischer, G. Herrmannsdörfer, D. Krausse and H. Schulze for technical assistance. The German Science Foundation (DFG) supported this research.

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Correspondence to David C. Rubie.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information 1

Justification for the extrapolation of the experimental data to high temperatures and pressures. (DOC 34 kb)

Supplementary Information 2

Electron microprobe analyses of experimental run products. (DOC 303 kb)

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Rubie, D., Gessmann, C. & Frost, D. Partitioning of oxygen during core formation on the Earth and Mars. Nature 429, 58–61 (2004).

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