Late formation of Earth’s atmosphere

Because the Earth’s mantle is rich in volatiles which escape from magmas that reach the surface, it has long been assumed that our planet’s atmosphere was self-produced by exhalation. But it turns out that noble gases in such exhalations do not match those in the atmosphere isotopically (Holland, G. et al. 2009. Meteorite Kr in Earth’s mantle suggests a late accretionary source for the atmosphere. Science, v. 326, p. 1522-1525). Greg Holland and colleagues from the Universities of Manchester and Houston measured krypton and xenon isotopes in volcanic CO2 emissions from New Mexico, and found that their proportions matched those in carbonaceous chondrites as does the Kr/Xe ratio. Those in the atmosphere are significantly different, resembling the values in the Sun. Comets may have delivered these gases after the original accretion of the Earth and the catastrophic formation of the Moon.

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