Nebular thermal evolution and the properties of primitive planetary materials



Abstract— Models of the solar nebula are constructed to investigate the hypothesis that surviving planetary objects began to form as the nebula cooled from an early, hot epoch. The imprint of such an epoch might be retained in the spatial distribution of planetary material, the systematic deviations of its elemental composition from that of the Sun, chemical indicators of primordial oxidation state, and variations in oxygen and other isotopic compositions. Our method of investigation is to calculate the time-dependent, two-dimensional temperature distributions within model nebulas of prescribed dynamical evolution, and to deduce the consequences of the calculated thermal histories for coagulated solid material. The models are defined by parameters which characterize nebular initial states (mass and angular momentum), mass accretion histories, and coagulation rates and efficiencies. It is demonstrated that coagulation during the cooling of the nebula from a hot state is expected to produce systematic heterogeneities which affect the chemical and isotopic compositions of planetary material. The radial thermal gradient at the midplane results in delayed coagulation of the more volatile elements. Vertical thermal gradients isolate the most refractory material and concentrate evaporated heavy elements in the gas phase. It is concluded that these effects could be responsible for the distribution of terrestrial planetary masses, the systematic depletion patterns of the moderately volatile elements in chondritic meteorites and the Earth, the range of oxygen isotopic compositions exhibited by calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (CAIs) and other refractory inclusions, and some geochemical evidence for a moderately enhanced oxidation state. However, nebular fractionations on a global scale are unlikely to account for the more oxidizing conditions inferred for some CAIs and chondritic silicates, which require dust enhancements greater than a few hundred. This conclusion, along with the well-established evidence from studies of chondrules and CAIs for thermal excursions of short duration, make it likely that local environments, unrelated to nebular thermal evolution, were also important.