Onset of a planetesimal dynamo
Abstract:The paleomagnetism of achondritic meteorites provides evidence for advecting metallic core dynamos and large-scale differentiation on their parent planetesimals. The small sizes of these bodies (~102 km) enable a new opportunity to understand the physics of dynamo generation in a size regime with distinct thermal evolution parameters that are more accessible to model than planets.
One key unknown about planetesimal dynamos is their onset time. Theoretical studies have suggested that it might occur instantaneously after large-scale melting (Weiss et al. 2008, Elkins-Tanton et al. 2011) while others have argued that a dynamo could be delayed by ~6 My (Sterenborg and Crowley 2013) or longer. Here we present the first paleomagnetic study that has constrained the onset time of a planetesimal dynamo, which has key implications for the physics of core formation, planetary thermal evolution and dynamo generation mechanisms.
Our study focused on angrites, a group of ancient basaltic achondrites from near the surface of an early differentiated planetesimal. With unshocked, unbrecciated textures and Pb/Pb ages ranging from only ~3-10 My younger than the formation of calcium aluminum inclusions (CAIs), they are among the oldest known and best preserved planetary igneous rocks.
We used a new CO2 + H2 gas mixture system (Suavet et al. 2014) for controlled oxygen fugacity thermal paleointensity experiments on two of the oldest angrites (D’Orbigny and SAH 99555; 4564.4 Ma) and a younger angrite (Angra dos Reis; 4557.7 Ma). For D’Orbigny and SAH 99555, we found that the natural remanence (NRM) demagnetizes at much lower temperatures than lab-applied thermoremanence (TRM), indicating that their NRMs are dominantly overprints from the Earth’s field and hand magnets. In contrast, the NRM of Angra dos Reis behaves similarly to a TRM, confirming its thermal origin. We estimate the paleointensities to be < 0.2 µT for D’Orbigny and SAH 99555 and ~10 µT for Angra dos Reis. This indicates that the angrite parent body dynamo originated between 3 and 10 My after CAI formation. Our results are consistent with planetesimal evolution models calling for dynamos delayed by mantle heating due to radiogenic 26Al. Furthermore, these data suggest that external nebular fields in the angrite parent body region had declined to < 0.2 µT at 3 My after CAI formation.