Our understanding of atmosphere formation essentially relies on noble gases and their isotopes, with xenon (Xe) being a key tracer of the early planetary stages. A long-standing issue, however, is the origin of atmospheric depletion in Xe1 and its light isotopes for the Earth2 and Mars3. Here we report that feldspar and olivine samples confined at high pressures and high temperature with diluted Xe and krypton (Kr) in air or nitrogen are enriched in heavy Xe isotopes by +0.8 to +2.3‰ per amu, and strongly enriched in Xe over Kr. The upper +2.3‰ per amu value is a minimum because quantitative trapping of unreacted Xe, either in bubbles or adsorbed on the samples, is likely. In light of these results, we propose a scenario solving the missing Xe problem that involves multiple magma ocean stage events at the proto-planetary stage, combined with atmospheric loss. Each of these events results in trapping of Xe at depth and preferential retention of its heavy isotopes. In the case of the Earth, the heavy Xe fraction was later added to the secondary CI chondritic atmosphere through continental erosion and/or recycling of a Hadean felsic crust.
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The research leading to these results was funded by the French CNRS PRIME80 and CNRS MITI Défi ISOTOP programmes. We acknowledge B. Lavielle and D. Bekaert for insightful discussions, R. Faure and B.A. Thomas for their technical assistance on MS measurements and T. Chematinov for his useful and appreciated participation in carrying out the step heating experiments. SEM measurements were done at the FIB and SEM facility at IMPMC, supported by Région Ile de France grant SESAME 2006 N°I-07-593/R, and by the French National Research Agency (ANR) grant no. ANR-07-BLAN-0124-01. We acknowledge G. Prouteau for providing the San Carlos olivine samples, and the mineralogical collection at Sorbonne Université for providing the feldspar samples.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Extended data figures and tables
a, Xe fractionation as a function of the time spent between the synthesis and the mass spectrometry analysis, and b, Xe fractionation as a function of the sample mass. Data points for samples characterized, as expected, by an absence of detectable fractionation (runs at 1,400 °C or with 100% Xe loading gas) were removed from this Figure for the sake of clarity. Vertical error bars represent the SE for isotopic fractionation calculation
Extended Data Fig. 2 Summary of measured δn values in experiments realized with laser heating increasing steps.
Instead of analysing all Xe released after laser melting of the fragments, the tuneable heating laser was first set at lower powers (indicated as the power voltage V applied to the laser source). Each heating plateau was kept for a few minutes and the released Xe were analysed by mass spectrometry using the same general protocol described in the Methods section. A handful attempts were made on olivine and sanidine 1 samples. They all point toward Xe predominantly exiting the material at the fusion point (or close to). Only two experiments with sanidine, S1–11d with 1%Xe gas and S1–19b with 100%Xe gas, led to the successful measurement for all of the heating steps of both δn and [Xe] values, as reported in the present Figure. Each point area is proportional to the Xe content ([Xe]) extracted at the heating plateau. The stars are δn values combining all δn measured and weighted by each [Xe], in other words the δn we would had measured if the sample fragment had been directly melted. For S1–11d (1% Xe gas), we observe variations of δn by a roughly 2-fold factor along the heating ramp. For this same sample, an unfractionated component was evidenced for the lowest laser voltage, but represent a marginal part (5.3% of the total released Xe). Since for similar heating power, ~45% of the total Xe of S1–19b (100% Xe gas) was released, this low T release is possibly associated to Xe trapped as bubbles. At the highest T, i.e. at the sample melting point, for S1–19b and S1–11d respective 0.54 ±0.12 ‰/amu and 0.61 ±0.11 ‰/amu fractionations were measured, which points towards a Xe component with some fractionated Xe, but still with an unfractionated component lowering the overall measured δn. This indirectly confirms that Xe chemical incorporation and the associated isotopic fractionation occurs in all samples prepared at T ≤ 1,100 °C; δn close to zero for samples prepared with 100% Xe gas being only due to a disruptive phenomenon whose extent is proportional to Xe partial pressure: oversaturation of the mineral (bubble formation, as seen in Extended Data Fig. 3). Detailed data used to construct this Figure are found in the results Tables for S111d and S1–19b given in Supplementary information file, while synthesis conditions are found in Extended Data Table 1
a and b, Feldspar sanidine 1 loaded with 1 mol% Xe and 1 mol% Kr enriched air (identical to syntheses S1–13 and S1–14). Round dark area in b are synthesis gas bubbles revealed and opened by polishing. c, a sanidine 1 loaded with 100 mol% Xe (identical to syntheses S1–17, S1–18 and S1–19). Brighter areas in c are Xe bubbles, found in oversaturated samples, i.e. loaded with 100 mol% Xe gas.
Extended Data Fig. 4 Non-radiogenic Xe data reveal the possibility of Archean atmosphere contribution to mantle Xe within the present scenario of an early fractionated silicate Earth.
Xe measured in deep crustal fluids49 (black and grey circles), MORB popping rock52 (brown circle), air55, Archean atmosphere as trapped in crustal samples (dark blue and black squares); and primordial components (green and maroon circles). All data are shown with associated SE. Alternatively, the deep fluids and MORB popping rock enrichment in Xe light isotopes compared to air could be explained by input from a slightly less fractionated lower mantle resulting from the last magma ocean stage having affected only the upper mantle.
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Rzeplinski, I., Sanloup, C., Gilabert, E. et al. Hadean isotopic fractionation of xenon retained in deep silicates. Nature 606, 713–717 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04710-4