Mars Meteorite Shakes Up Stories of Solar System Formation
A long-held assumption about isotope ratios
contradicts prevailing views about planet formation
Geologists at the University of California at Davis were surprised when they measured krypton isotope ratios in a rare meteorite believed to have been delivered to Earth from Mars. The meteorite was like kryptonite (so to speak) to conventional wisdom.
Planetary scientists use isotope ratios as divination tools. According to their models, certain krypton isotopes indicate a primordial nebula as the source. Other isotopes indicate meteors as their source millions of years later. Krypton, being a noble gas, is a “volatile” element that can be found in a planet’s crust and atmosphere.
Here’s the conventional narrative from a UCD press release June 16, 2022, “Martian Meteorite Upsets Planet Formation Theory.”
A basic assumption about planet formation is that planets first collect these volatiles from the nebula around a young star, said Sandrine Péron, a postdoctoral scholar working with Professor Sujoy Mukhopadhyay in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California, Davis.
Because the planet is a ball of molten rock at this point, these elements initially dissolve into the magma ocean and then degas [de-gas] back into the atmosphere. Later on, chondritic meteorites crashing into the young planet deliver more volatile materials.
So scientists expect that the volatile elements in the interior of the planet should reflect the composition of the solar nebula, or a mixture of solar and meteoritic volatiles, while the volatiles in the atmosphere would come mostly from meteorites. These two sources — solar vs. meteoritic — can be distinguished by the ratios of isotopes of noble gases, in particular krypton.
The scientists at UCD carefully measured the krypton isotope ratios in a Mars meteorite that fell to Earth in France in 1815. Alas, it didn’t fit the narrative. The divination work indicated that the meteorite, thought to be primitive from Mars’ interior, had a substantial amount of atmospheric krypton. Often the ‘surprise effect’ tells a philosopher of science that a paradigm is suffering an anomaly.
Surprisingly, the krypton isotopes in the meteorite correspond to those originating from meteorites, not the solar nebula. That means that meteorites were delivering volatile elements to the forming planet much earlier than previously thought, and in the presence of the nebula, reversing conventional thinking.
How devastating is this anomaly? Is it just a one-off measurement that still fits the secular paradigm of planet formation? If Mars completed its growth when the solar nebula was still intact, the sun should have blown off the nebula, and Mars’ early atmosphere with it. So how did Mars come to have any remaining atmospheric krypton? In comes the rescue device: “atmospheric krypton must have somehow been preserved, possibly trapped underground or in polar ice caps.”
The research was published in Science in the June 16 issue. Data proved opposite their expectations:
Our observations contradict the common hypothesis that, during planet formation, chondritic volatile delivery occurred after solar gas acquisition…..
The sequence of volatile accretion on Mars suggested by our data, chondritic followed by solar nebular, is opposite to most models of planet formation – in which chondritic volatile delivery follows solar gas acquisition.
This calls for emergency rescue of the common hypothesis. The authors end by raising the perhapsimaybecouldness index:
We conclude that within 4 Myr of Solar System formation, chondritic volatiles were incorporated into Mars’ interior in large quantities; heavy noble gases reach abundances up to two orders of magnitude higher than in Earth’s bulk mantle. The delivery of these chondritic volatiles to the inner Solar System could have been from material similar to enstatite chondrites, or from outer Solar System material scattered inwards by giant planet migration.
But that is not what they expected, nor does it fit what secular theorists long believed. Theory based on those isotope ratios can no longer be trusted to tell a simple story. The press release ends with hope in futureware: “While our study clearly points to the chondritic gases in the Martian interior, it also raises some interesting questions about the origin and composition of Mars’ early atmosphere.”
Update 20 June 2022: Scientists continue their divination with krypton isotopes. Here’s another example from June 6 in Geophysical Research Letters by Kim et al., “Krypton-81 Dating Constrains Timing of Deep Groundwater Flow Activation.” The team looks into the krypton crystal ball to say what happened millions of years ago and might happen with climate change.
Send more funding, and they will find figure it out. They’ve been wrong for decades about their divination technique, but they can keep their jobs anyway. You can trust them. They are scientists. No scientist ever has to be held accountable for misleading generations of trusting students.
We can think of some ‘interesting questions’ to raise. What does this mean for the planetary nebula hypothesis in general? What does it imply for the Earth, Venus and Mercury? Is the theory rescue device plausible? Do the conventional measurements of isotope ratios have anything to do with the narrative? How many more anomalies will be required to falsify the “common hypothesis” and lead to a scientific revolution? Will any planetary scientists apologize for being so wrong? How long will it take this paper to affect other publications? Will other planetary scientists stop trusting isotope divination methods? Will textbooks ever be revised?
For a fascinating account of Earth that counteracts secular thinking, read Michael Denton’s latest book, The Miracle of Man (Center for Science and Culture, 2022). Following up on his earlier books The Wonder of Water (2017), Children of Light (2018) and The Miracle of the Cell (2020), Denton outdoes himself in this latest book, collecting together numerous cosmic coincidences that make human life possible. Most of them are absolutely amazing, very precise and unexpected. The serendipitous combination of so many Goldilocks conditions overturns the notion that man is a meaningless speck in the cosmic void, like Carl Sagan, Bill Nye and others have preached. Today’s evidence motivates a return to the anthropocentric universe – the conviction that beings like us were intended from the beginning.
Denton is not a Christian, and accepts deep time uncritically. But that makes his arguments more powerful for many readers, because nobody can accuse him of having religious motivations for his views. Incontrovertible scientific evidence itself, he argues, have led to his conclusions. I hope and pray that his continued thinking down this path will lead him to the Creator God of the Bible as the best explanation for all the wonders he has written about, and that he will discover the peace of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.