Evidence for Transient Atmospheres during Eruptive Outgassing on the Moon

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Events following the giant impact formation of the Moon are thought to have led to volatile depletion and concurrent mass-dependent fractionation of the isotopes of moderately volatile elements (MVE). The detailed processes and conditions surrounding this episode remain obscured and are not unified by a single model for all volatile elements and compounds. Using available data, including new Zn isotope data for eight lunar samples, we demonstrate that the isotopic fractionation of MVE in the Moon is best expressed by nonideal Rayleigh distillation, approaching the fractionation factor α using the reduced masses of the evaporated isotopologs. With these calculations, a best fit for the data is obtained when the lunar MVE isotope data are normalized to ordinary or enstatite chondrites (ΔMoon-OC,EC), rather than a bulk silicate Earth composition. This analysis further indicates that the parent body from which the Moon formed cannot have partitioned S into its core based on S isotope compositions of lunar rocks. The best fit between ΔMoon-OC,EC and modeled nonideal Rayleigh fractionation is defined by a slope that corresponds to a saturation index of 90%?±?4%. In contrast, the older Highland suite is defined by a saturation index of 75%?±?2%, suggesting that the vapor phase pressure was higher during mare basalt eruptions. This provides the first tangible evidence that the Moon was veiled by a thin atmosphere during mare basalt eruption events spanning at least from 3.8 to 3 billion years ago and implies that MVE isotope fractionation dominantly occurred after the Moon had accreted.

Original languageEnglish
Article number67
JournalPlanetary Science Journal
Issue number3
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

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