- © The Mineralogical Society Of America
The materials of the planets and the small bodies of the solar system contain a rich record of stable isotope variations in the light elements. As in terrestrial isotope geochemistry, this record reflects physical and chemical processes involving isotopic mixing among different reservoirs as well as fractionations arising in chemical reactions. The processes that influence the isotopic records of extraterrestrial materials range widely in environmental conditions from very high-energy events such as formation of refractory inclusions and chondrules by evaporation, condensation and melting in the solar nebula to lower temperature fluid-rock interactions in asteroids and planets. In addition, however, stable isotope cosmochemistry must consider issues that are beyond the scope of isotope geochemistry. For example, in the terrestrial sphere one may assume the existence of an isotopic reservoir that was originally homogenized during planet formation and the actual isotope compositions of the bulk earth do not need to be known in order to study the differences in stable isotope compositions that have been generated subsequently by various geochemical processes.
This assumption of homogenization cannot be made for extraterrestrial samples, and in fact stable isotopes in meteorites preserve some of the most dramatic evidence for the incomplete nature of the mixing of distinct presolar materials during formation of the solar system. Such ‘isotopic anomalies’ are present in the isotopic distributions of H, C, N, and O on all spatial scales—from microscopic zoning in certain meteoritic minerals to the bulk compositions of asteroids and planets. Thus, some of the isotopic heterogeneities of ‘primitive’ solar system materials represent vestiges of primordial differences that could not be fully erased during the processing of presolar materials. In other cases, isotopic heterogeneities reflect the preservation of unique clues to processes occurring during formation of the solar system and planetary accretion, including early ‘geologic activity’ on planetesimals …