Rapid core formation in terrestrial planets by percolative flow: in-situ imaging of metallic melt under high pressure/temperature conditions

Madeleine T.L. Berg, Geoffrey Bromiley, Yann Le Godec, Philippe Julien, Mohamed Mezouar, Jean-Philippe Perrillat, Nicola Potts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Core formation has left a lasting geochemical signature on the Earth. In order to constrain the composition of the Earth we must fully understand the processes by which newly formed Earth, and the bodies which accreted to it, differentiated. Percolation of iron-rich melt through solid silicate has been invoked as a mechanism for differentiation and core formation in terrestrial bodies in the early solar system. However, to date the contribution of percolation to core formation cannot be assessed due to the absence of data on Fe-rich melt migration velocities. Here we use a novel experimental design to investigate textural changes in an analog system, Au melt in polycrystalline h-BN, at 3 GPa, relevant to core formation in the early solar system. Using a combination of high resolution, in-situ X-ray tomography and fast 2-D radiographic imaging, we obtain the first direct data on melt migration velocities at high PT. Melt migration is highly variable and episodic, driven by variations in differential pressure during melt migration and matrix compaction. Smaller scale melt processes, representing migration of melt along pre-existing melt networks, give comparatively fast velocities of 0.6–60 μms−1. Ex-situ experiments are used to compare melt networks in analog systems to Fe-rich melt in silicates. Two competing processes for melt migration are percolation of melt along grain boundaries, and hydraulic fracturing induced by melt injection. Typically, both processes are noted in experimental and natural systems, although the relative importance of each mechanism is variable. Using a simple model for melt flow through a porous media, migration velocities determined here account for full differentiation of Earth-sized bodies within 101–103 Myr, for submicron diameter melt bands, or within a few Myr or micron-sized melt bands. This is consistent with rapid timescales inferred from geochemistry for core formation in planetesimals, implying that percolation may have had an important contribution to core differentiation in the Earth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-77
Number of pages77
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2018


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