Meteorites may have given potassium a “hitchhike” to Earth

Meteorites may have given potassium a "hitchhike" to Earth

Earth seems to have received potassium with the “help” of meteorites that crashed into our planet in the past. The conclusion comes from a study by researchers Nicole Nie and Da Wang, from the Carnegie Institute, in the United States, and from the Chengdu University of Technology, in China. The results obtained may help scientists to better understand the formation processes of the Solar System.

  • How did the Solar System form?
  • Meteorites help uncover the original formation of the Solar System

The institution’s scientists have been working to try to reveal the origin of volatile elements and, by all indications, some of them may have arrived on Earth “hitchhiking” with meteorites of the carbonaceous chondrite type, one of the most primitive. To investigate this possibility, the team studied the ratio of three potassium isotopes in samples from 32 different meteorites.

The advantage of the element is that it is a moderately volatile, that is, it has a relatively low boiling point, which allows it to evaporate quickly. However, this characteristic ends up making it difficult to search for the proportions of isotopes of volatile elements, which reveals important information about the past of the Solar System.

Nie explains that the extreme conditions inside stars allow them to produce elements through nuclear fusion, forming the material that will be used by subsequent stellar generations. Part of the material formed inside them can be ejected into space, accumulating in clouds of gas and dust.

4.5 billion years ago, one of these clouds collapsed on itself and formed the Sun; what was left of the material gave rise to planets, asteroids and meteorites. “By studying variations in the isotopic record preserved in meteorites, we can reconstruct the original materials from which they formed, and build a geochemical timeline of the evolution of the Solar System,” said Wang.

They found that some of the carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, formed in the Solar System, have more potassium isotopes produced by supernovae. Carbonaceous non-chondrite meteorites have the same proportions observed on Earth and in the rest of our system.

This suggests that the material that formed the Solar System was not evenly distributed between the inner and outer parts (like poorly mixed cake batter). As the pattern of potassium isotopes before the formation of the Solar System, found in carbonaceous non-chondrite meteorites, corresponds to that of Earth, they are probably responsible for potassium on our planet.

The article with the results of the study was published in the journal Science.

Source: Science; Via: Carnegie Science