Letter | Published:

Zinc isotopic evidence for the origin of the Moon

Nature volume 490, pages 376379 (18 October 2012) | Download Citation

Abstract

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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Acknowledgements

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.

Author information

Author notes

    • Randal C. Paniello
    •  & James M. D. Day

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

  1. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and McDonnell Center for Space Sciences, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri 63130, USA

    • Randal C. Paniello
    •  & Frédéric Moynier
  2. Geosciences Research Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California 92093-0244, USA

    • James M. D. Day

Authors

  1. Search for Randal C. Paniello in:

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Contributions

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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Frédéric Moynier.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Supplementary references.

Excel files

  1. 1.

    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.

  2. 2.

    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.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11507

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