Zinc isotopic evidence for the origin of the Moon


Volatile elements have a fundamental role in the evolution of planets. But how budgets of volatiles were set in planets, and the nature and extent of volatile-depletion of planetary bodies during the earliest stages of Solar System formation remain poorly understood1,2. The Moon is considered to be volatile-depleted and so it has been predicted that volatile loss should have fractionated stable isotopes of moderately volatile elements3. One such element, zinc, exhibits strong isotopic fractionation during volatilization in planetary rocks4,5, but is hardly fractionated during terrestrial igneous processes6, making it a powerful tracer of the volatile histories of planets. Here we present high-precision zinc isotopic and abundance data which show that lunar magmatic rocks are enriched in the heavy isotopes of zinc and have lower zinc concentrations than terrestrial or Martian igneous rocks. Conversely, Earth and Mars have broadly chondritic zinc isotopic compositions. We show that these variations represent large-scale evaporation of zinc, most probably in the aftermath of the Moon-forming event, rather than small-scale evaporation processes during volcanism. Our results therefore represent evidence for volatile depletion of the Moon through evaporation, and are consistent with a giant impact origin for the Earth and Moon.

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Figure 1: δ 68 Zn versus δ 66 Zn for lunar, terrestrial and Martian samples.
Figure 2: Zinc isotopic composition of terrestrial, lunar, Martian and chondritic samples.
Figure 3: Zinc isotopic fractionation as a function of the fraction of Zn remaining during open-system Rayleigh distillation.


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We thank the NASA curation staff, CAPTEM and the meteorite working group for samples. This work was supported by grants from the NASA LASER and Cosmochemistry programmes to F.M. (NNX09AM64G, NNX12AH70G) and J.M.D.D. (NNX11AG34G; NNX12AH75G) and from the Exobiology programme (NNX12AD88G) to F.M.

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R.C.P. and F.M. performed zinc isotope and abundance measurements. All authors wrote the Letter and contributed to discussion and interpretation of results in the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Frédéric Moynier.

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Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Text and Supplementary references. (PDF 181 kb)

Supplementary Data

This file contains Supplementary Table 1 which shows isotopic composition and concentration of Zn in lunar, martian and terrestrial igneous rocks and for chondrites. (XLSX 19 kb)

Supplementary Data

This file contains Supplementary Table 2 which shows MC-ICP-MS ThermoElectron Neptune Plus settings for the Zn isotope measurements at Washington University in St Louis. (XLSX 25 kb)

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Paniello, R., Day, J. & Moynier, F. Zinc isotopic evidence for the origin of the Moon. Nature 490, 376–379 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11507

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