Chondrites as samples of differentiated planetesimals

Linda T. Elkins-Tanton, Benjamin P. Weiss, Maria T. Zuber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

219 Scopus citations


Chondritic meteorites are unmelted and variably metamorphosed aggregates of the earliest solids of the solar system. The variety of metamorphic textures in chondrites motivated the "onion shell" model in which chondrites originated at varying depths within a parent body heated primarily by the short-lived radioisotope 26Al, with the highest metamorphic grade originating nearest the center. Allende and a few other chondrites possess a unidirectional magnetization that can be best explained by a core dynamo on their parent body, indicating internal melting and differentiation. Here we show that a parent body that accreted to >~200km in radius by ~1.5Ma after the formation of calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (CAIs) would have a differentiated interior, and ongoing accretion would add a solid undifferentiated crust overlying a differentiated interior, consistent with formational and evolutionary constraints inferred for the CV parent body. This body could have produced a magnetic field lasting more than 10Ma. This hypothesis represents a new model for the origin of some chondrites, presenting them as the unprocessed crusts of internally differentiated early planetesimals. Such bodies may exist in the asteroid belt today; the shapes and masses of the two largest asteroids, 1 Ceres and 2 Pallas, can be consistent with differentiated interiors, conceivably with small iron cores with hydrated silicate or ice-silicate mantles, covered with undifferentiated crusts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - May 1 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Allende
  • Chondrite
  • Differentiation
  • Magma ocean
  • Planetesimal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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