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Core formation in terrestrial planets

Physics of The Earth and Planetary Interiors
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/0031-9201(79)90106-7


Abstract Calculations of the radial distribution of the energy released in core formation indicate that the cores of all the terrestrial planets may be expected to receive a disproportionate share of the gravitational energy released. Since the model of the process used in these calculations favors transfer of energy to the mantle, it is likely that other reasonable models of the process will result in even more energy being deposited in the cores of the early planets. The calculations also show that it is necessary for a certain amount of core phase to separate and accumulate, before the energy released by gravitational settling is sufficient to supply the latent heat of fusion of the core phase. The amount of melting required to reach this point varies according to the total mass of the planet, and mass fraction of core, but is not particularly great (<5% for the Earth to ∼ 37% for the Moon). In the case of the Moon, this amount of segregation, although large, amounts to a surface layer about 260 km thick, similar to the proposed depth of early wholesale melting. Core separation in terrestrial planets appears to be a self-sustaining process even for fairly small bodies, provided that a small amount of a dense potential core phase is present. Although it seems likely to occur rapidly (within 10 6–10 7 years) even for small (Moon-size) bodies, detailed kinetic models will be necessary to specify the time scale.

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