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New technique for analysing Earth samples and Martian meteorites reveals planets’ origins

Research carried out by a team from universities around the globe has revealed more about the process called accretion, whereby planets are constructed by the gradual accumulation of material from collisions with neighbouring planets. The creation of planets is a violent process but it hasn’t always been clear whether there was a link between their physical and chemical attributes. A new technique gives more accurate measurements of magnesium isotope ratios and the findings from this research changes the view on how planets in general, not just the Earth and Mars, are formed.

The vaporized rock given off by the extreme heat from the impact of these collisions, changes a planet’s composition. Dr Remco Hin, University of Bristol, who led the research, explained that by taking high precision measurements of the magnesium isotope compositions of samples from Earth and meteorites from Mars and the asteroid Vesta, the researchers provided evidence that more than 40% of the Earth’s mass was lost as it was constructed. This research indicates that both collision history and vapour loss affects a planet’s creation and composition.


Further Information

These findings have been published in the journal Nature [Magneisum isotope evidence that accrestional vapour loss shapes planetary compositions]. Birkbeck’s Dr Philip Pogge von Strandmann was one of the paper’s authors; his research explores the mechanisms behind natural climate system change using isotope chemistry. He’s a member of the new London Geochemistry and Isotope Centre (LOGIC). This piece is based on a longer news item published on the University of Bristol’s website - Research sheds new light on how Earth and Mars were created

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