Constraints on Mercury’s Core-Mantle Boundary Region
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Understanding the boundary between a planet's metallic core and silicate mantle is important for constraining processes that dominate on either side of this boundary. Geophysical measurements of the planet Mercury by the MESSENGER spacecraft have provided evidence of a core larger than earlier, less-constrained estimates. Further, these results, taken in concert with measurements of the elemental composition of the surface by MESSENGER, have led to the suggestion that the uppermost layer of the outer core may be highly enriched in sulfur, and the top of the core may consist of a solid sulfide layer. The low iron and relatively large sulfur contents of the surface indicate highly reducing conditions during planet formation, placing constraints on the potential composition of Mercury’s core. Recent metal-silicate partitioning experiments have developed new limits on the amount of sulfur and silicon that may partition into the core as a function of sulfur abundance at the surface. Models for the planet’s internal structure constrained by the current best estimates of the bulk density, normalized polar moment of inertia, and fraction of the polar moment of inertia of the solid layer that extends from the surface to the top of the liquid outer core provide an important view of the layering and bulk composition of Mercury. By combining the results of these internal structure models with the experimental relationship between core and mantle composition we place new limits on core composition and structure. Further, imposing measured compositional constraints on the miscibility of iron-sulfur-silicon alloys yields important limits on the presence or absence of an immiscible sulfur-rich liquid layer or a solid sulfide layer at the top of the core.