Lunar core formation: New constraints from metal-silicate partitioning of siderophile elements

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Analyses of Apollo era seismograms, lunar laser ranging data and the lunar moment of inertia suggest the presence of a small, at least partially molten Fe-rich metallic core in the Moon, but the chemical composition and formation conditions of this core are not well constrained. Here, we assess whether pressure-temperature conditions can be found at which the lunar silicate mantle equilibrated with a Fe-rich metallic liquid during core formation. To this end, we combine measurements of the metal-silicate partitioning behavior of siderophile elements with the estimated depletion due to core formation in those elements in the silicate mantle of the Moon. We also explore how the presence of the light element sulfur (suggested by seismic models to be present in the core at concentrations of up to 6 wt%) in the lunar core affects core formation models.We use published metal-silicate partitioning data for Ni, Co, W, Mo, P, V and Cr in the lunar pressure range (1 atm-5 GPa) and characterize the dependence of the metal/silicate partition coefficients (D) on temperature, pressure, oxygen fugacity and composition of the silicate melt and the metal. If the core is assumed to consist of pure iron, core-mantle equilibration conditions that best satisfy lunar mantle depletions of five siderophile elements-Ni, Co, W, Mo and P-are a pressure of 4.5( ± 0.5) GPa and a temperature of 2200 K. The lunar mantle depletions of Cr and V are also consistent with metal-silicate equilibration in this pressure and temperature range if 6 wt% S is incorporated into the lunar core. Our results therefore suggest that metal-silicate equilibrium during lunar core formation occurred at depths close to the present-day lunar core-mantle boundary. This provides independent support for both the existence of a deep magma ocean in the Moon in its early history and the presence of significant amounts of sulfur in the lunar core. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-352
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number388
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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