Tracking the delivery of volatile elements to terrestrial planets

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Martin Schiller


University of Copenhagen


DKK 4,900,000




Semper Ardens: Accelerate


Perhaps one of the most fundamental questions in natural sciences is the origin of life in our Solar System and how likely it is to be found elsewhere. What is clear is that a keystone to the formation of life is the presence of water-bearing planets in the habitable zone around stars. However, it is not clear if the formation of these Earth-like planets that bear the complex chemistry critical to life is a rare chance occurrence or the natural outcome of star and planet formation.


Traditionally planet formation is thought to occur relatively slow via collisions between ever larger proto-planets. In this model, volatiles and complex chemistry critical to life arrive late and their delivery is subject to a chance encounter. Recent images of disks around young stars and simulations of planet formation have led to a paradigm shift. Planets are now thought to grow fast, primarily driven by accretion of millimeter-sized particles. This paradigm shift raises the possibility that delivery of volatiles and complex chemistry critical to life is a common outcome of planet formation, implying that water worlds may be common in the galaxy. Thus, better understanding of the timing of delivery of volatiles to the Earth has broad implications for the likelihood of life elsewhere.


Planetary processes have made it impossible to determine the timing and origin of their volatile elements. However, this information can be obtained from chondrules, millimetre-sized spherical objects found in primitive meteorites. Critically, chondrules formed throughout the growth of the planets and, as such, each chondrule provides a snapshot of their environment. We will take advantage of this by determining the chemical and isotopic fingerprints of elements with distinct redox behaviour in age dated chondrules, which will allow us to establish when volatile elements were delivered to Earth's feeding zone.

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