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Mission to Very Early Earth

Description: The Hadean Earth is often viewed as an inhospitable and, perhaps, unlikely setting for the rise of primordial life. However, carbonaceous materials supplied by accreting meteorites and sources of chemical energy similar to those fueling life around modern deep-sea volcanic vents would have been present in abundance. More questionable are two other essential ingredients for life - liquid water and clement temperatures. Did the Hadean Earth possess a hydrosphere and temperate climate compatible with the initiation of biologic activity? If so, the popular model of an excessively hot planetary surface characterized by a basaltic crust, devoid of continental material is invalid. Similarly, establishment of an Hadean hydrosphere prior to the cessation of heavy asteroid bombardment may mean that primitive life could have evolved and then been extinguished, only to rise again. The most effective means of determining the environmental conditions on this young planet is through geochemical analysis of samples retrieved from the Early Earth. While rocks older than 4 billion years (4 Ga) have not been found, individual zircon grains, the detritus of rocks long since eroded away, have been identified with ages as old as 4.4 Ga - only {approx}160 million years younger than the Earth itself. If we can use the geochemical information contained in these unique samples to infer the nature of their source rocks and the processes that formed them, we can place constraints on the conditions prevailing at the Earth's surface shortly after formation. This project utilizes a combined analytical and experimental approach to gather the necessary geochemical data to determine the parameters required to relate the zircons to their parent materials. Mission to Early Earth involves dating, isotopic and chemical analyses of mineral and melt inclusions within zircons and of the zircons themselves. The major experimental activity at LLNL focused on the partitioning ...
Date: March 13, 2007
Creator: Hutcheon, I D; Weber, P K; Fallon, S J; Smith, J B; Aleon, J; Ryerson, F J et al.
Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department