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Paleomagnetic evidence for dynamo activity driven by inward crystallisation of a metallic asteroid

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Bryson, JFJ 
Weiss, BP 
Harrison, RJ 
Herrero-Albillos, J 
Kronast, F 


The direction in which a planetary core solidifies has fundamental implications for the feasibility and nature of dynamo generation. Although Earth's core is outwardly solidifying, the cores of certain smaller planetary bodies have been proposed to inwardly solidify due to their lower central pressures. However, there have been no unambiguous observations of inwardly solidified cores or the relationship between this solidification regime and planetary magnetic activity. To address this gap, we present the results of complimentary paleomagnetic techniques applied to the matrix metal and silicate inclusions within the IVA iron meteorites. This family of meteorites has been suggested to originate from a planetary core that had its overlaying silicate mantle removed by collisions during the early solar system. This process is thought to have produced a molten ball of metal that cooled rapidly and has been proposed to have inwardly solidified. Recent thermal evolution models of such a body predict that it should have generated an intense, multipolar and time-varying dynamo field. This field could have been recorded as a remanent magnetisation in the outer, cool layers of a solid crust on the IVA parent core. We find that the different components in the IVA iron meteorites display a range of paleomagnetic fidelities, depending crucially on the cooling rate of the meteorite. In particular, silicate inclusions in the quickly cooled São João Nepomuceno meteorite are poor paleomagnetic recorders. On the other hand, the matrix metal and some silicate subsamples from the relatively slowly cooled Steinbach meteorite are far better paleomagnetic recorders and provide evidence of an intense ($\gtrsim$100 μT) and directionally varying (exhibiting significant changes on a timescale $\lesssim$200 kyr) magnetic field. This is the first demonstration that some iron meteorites record ancient planetary magnetic fields. Furthermore, the observed field intensity, temporal variability and dynamo lifetime are consistent with thermal evolution models of the IVA parent core. Because the acquisition of remanent magnetisation by some IVA iron meteorites require that they cooled below their Curie temperature during the period of dynamo activity, the magnetisation carried by Steinbach also provides strong evidence favouring the inward solidification of its parent core.



meteorite paleomagnetism, iron meteorite, cloudy zone, X-ray photoemission electron microscopy, AF demagnetisation, core dynamo activity

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Earth and Planetary Science Letters

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European Research Council (320750)
The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007–2013)/ERC grant agreement numbers 320750 and 312284. BPW and JFJB thank the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI), the NASA Solar System Workings Program (grant # NNX15AL62G) and Thomas F. Peterson for support. JFJB thanks the Natural Environment Research Council for financial support. J.H.-A. thanks the MAT2014-53921-R MINECO project.