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Common feedstocks of late accretion for the terrestrial planets


Abundances of the highly siderophile elements (HSEs) in silicate portions of Earth and the Moon provide constraints on the impact flux to both bodies, but only since ~100 Myr after the beginning of the Solar System (hereafter tCAI). The earlier impact flux to the inner Solar System remains poorly constrained. The former dwarf planet Vesta offers the possibility to probe this early history, because it underwent rapid core formation ~1 Myr after tCAI and its silicate portions possess elevated chondritic HSE abundances. Here we quantify the material accreted into Vesta’s mantle and crust and find that the HSE abundances can only be explained by the bombardments of planetesimals from the terrestrial planet region. The Vestan mantle accreted HSEs within the first 60 Myr; its crust accreted HSEs throughout the Solar System history, with asteroid impacts dominating only since ~4.1 billion years ago. Our results indicate that all major bodies in the inner Solar System accreted planetesimals predominantly from the terrestrial planet region. The asteroid belt was either never significantly more massive than today, or it rapidly lost most of its mass early in the Solar System history.

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Fig. 1: Re/Os versus Os plot for the HED meteorites used to estimate Os abundances in Vesta’s mantle and crust.
Fig. 2: Impactor-retention ratios as a function of the impactor-to-target size ratio, impact angle and velocity.
Fig. 3: Cumulative accreted mass as a function of time in different bombardment models with consideration of impactor-retention ratios.
Fig. 4: Late-accreted mass from leftover planetesimals and inferred from HSEs for Vesta, Moon, Mars and Earth.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are all included in the manuscript (Methods). Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

At present, iSALE is not fully open source. It is distributed on a case-by-case basis to academic users in the impact community, strictly for non-commercial use. Scientists interested in using or developing iSALE should see for a description of application requirements.


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We gratefully acknowledge the developers of iSALE (, in particular D. Elbeshausen for developing the iSALE-3D. M.-H.Z. is supported by the Science and Technology Development Fund, Macau (0079/2018/A2). K.W., H.B., G.J.A., N.A. and M.-H.Z. acknowledge funding by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) – Project-ID 263649064 – TRR 170. This is TRR publication no. 137. W.N. acknowledges support by Klaus Tschira foundation. J.M.D.D. acknowledges support by NASA Emerging Worlds programme (80NSSC19K0932).

Author information




M.-H.Z. and A.M. conceived the idea and discussed every step of this work. M.-H.Z. performed the impact simulations and Monte Carlo modelling with discussion with N.A. and K.W. W.N. performed the thermal evolution simulation. W.N., D.C.R., Q.-Z.Y., A.M. and M.-H.Z. discussed the HSE transports in Vesta. M.-H.Z., A.M., J.M.D.D., G.J.A., H.B. and Q.-Z.Y. analysed the measured HSE datasets and calculated the late-accreted mass to Vesta. The manuscript was written by M.-H.Z. and A.M. with detailed reviews and contributions by all authors.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Meng-Hua Zhu or Alessandro Morbidelli.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Astronomy thanks Mario Fischer-Gödde, Simone Marchi and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Parameters of the exponent functions (f = a*exp(−b*x)) for the fit of impactor retention ratio derived from the oblique impact simulations.

Here x represents the ratio of diameter between impactor and Vesta.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Compilation of available concentrations of Re, Os, Ir, Ru, Pt, Pd, and 187Re/188Os, 187Os/188Os from the studied HED meteorites used in this work.

References: (1). ref. 13; (2). ref. 12.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Rhenium/Os versus Os plot for lunar samples.

The Re and Os measurements of lunar samples are for pristine crustal rocks68, glass119, mare basalts55,67, impact breccias124, and impact melts125,126. The horizontal line represents the average Re/Os value of 0.075 of the chondrites15.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 4 Cumulative number of impactors with diameters larger than 1 km colliding with Vesta and the size-frequency distribution of the impactors.

The details of estimating the cumulative impactor (d > 1 km) number as a function of time are discussed in the Methods. In (a), the black line represents the combined estimates of the number of impactors from the main belt (green line) and the leftover planetesimals from the terrestrial planet region (red line). Here, we did not include any cometary contribution to the bombardment that may have been delivered to Vesta during the migration of the giant planets. In (b), the data points represent the incremental size-frequency distribution for the current main belt that is derived from the absolute magnitude distribution (see refs. 30,127,128,129).

Extended Data Fig. 5 Average impactor retention ratio as a function of the integrated time for three impact scenarios of Vesta.

The average impactor retention ratio is defined as the ratio between the total mass accreted to Vesta and total impactor mass colliding with Vesta. Each data point represents the average impactor retention ratio for impacts occurring cumulatively from a start time to the present day. The average impactor retention ratios for three impact scenarios are almost similar within a range between 0.065 and 0.075 (shadow area) and do not vary significantly within the considered time interval from the present day to the start time between 4,100 Ma and 4560 Ma.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Vesta’s thermal evolution for shallow magma ocean and global magma ocean scenarios.

The thermal evolution is calculated with partitioning of 26Al for shallow magma ocean (a), but without the partitioning of 26Al for the global magma ocean (c). (b) is a zoom into Vesta’s subsurface with the shallow magma ocean (a) showing a life-time of ~ 0.07 Myr and a depth of a few hundred metres. In each panel, the horizontal axis represents the time since CAI formation, whereas the vertical axis represents the radius variation during the thermal evolution. Vesta was assumed to accrete instantaneously and form an initially porous structure with a larger size, then underwent sintering from an unconsolidated and highly porous state to a consolidated state arriving at the current asteroid size thereafter (see ref. 85). For the shallow magma ocean scenario, the mantle crystallizes completely within ~ 200 Myr after CAI formation, when the temperature falls below the silicate solidus of ~ 1425 K (a). For the global magma ocean scenario, complete mantle crystallization occurs within ~ 300 Myr after CAI formation (c). The model is from Neumann et al.40, with the parameters adopted for the calculation of melting and heat sources from Neumann et al.130.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Late-accreted mass inferred from the HSEs for Earth, Mars, Moon, and Vesta and the estimated mass accreted from leftover planetesimals.

from refs. 51,52,119; from refs. 53,54; § from refs. 17,51,55,68; from this work.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Fig. 1.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

The HSE data source of HED meteorites for Fig. 1.

Source Data Fig. 2

The individual impactor retention ratio from the iSALE simulation.

Source Data Fig. 3

The cumulative accreted mass for different bombardment models.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 3

The HSE data source of lunar samples for Extended Data Fig. 3.

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Zhu, MH., Morbidelli, A., Neumann, W. et al. Common feedstocks of late accretion for the terrestrial planets. Nat Astron (2021).

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