Micrometer-scale U-Pb age domains in eucrite zircons, impact re-setting, and the thermal history of the HED parent body

M. D. Hopkins, S. J. Mojzsis, W. F. Bottke, O. Abramov

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Meteoritic zircons are rare, but some are documented to occur in asteroidal meteorites, including those of the howardite-eucrite-diogenite (HED) achondrite clan (Rubin, A. [1997]. Meteorit. Planet. Sci. 32, 231-247). The HEDs are widely considered to originate from the Asteroid 4 Vesta. Vesta and the other large main belt asteroids record an early bombardment history. To explore this record, we describe sub-micrometer distributions of trace elements (U, Th) and 235,238U-207,206Pb ages from four zircons (>7-40μm θ) separated from bulk samples of the brecciated eucrite Millbillillie. Ultra-high resolution (~100nm) ion microprobe depth profiles reveal different zircon age domains correlative to mineral chemistry and to possible impact scenarios. Our new U-Pb zircon geochronology shows that Vesta's crust solidified within a few million years of Solar System formation (4561±13Ma), in good agreement with previous work (e.g. Carlson, R.W., Lugmair, G.W. [2000]. Timescales of planetesimal formation and differentiation based on extinct and extant radioisotopes. In: Canup, R., Righter, K. (Eds.), Origin of the Earth and Moon. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, pp. 25-44). Younger zircon age domains (ca. 4530Ma) also record crustal processes, but these are interpreted to be exogenous because they are well after the effective extinction of 26Al (t1/2=0.72Myr). An origin via impact-resetting was evaluated with a suite of analytical impact models. Output shows that if a single impactor was responsible for the ca. 4530Ma zircon ages, it had to have been ≥10km in diameter and at high enough velocity (>5kms-1) to account for the thermal field required to re-set U-Pb ages. Such an impact would have penetrated at least 10km into Vesta's crust. Later events at ca. 4200Ma are documented in HED apatite 235,238U-207,206Pb ages (Zhou, Q. et al. [2011]. Early basaltic volcanism and Late Heavy Bombardment on Vesta: U-Pb ages of small zircons and phosphates in eucrites. Lunar Planet. Sci. 42. Abstract #2575) and 40-39Ar age spectra (Bogard, D.D. [2011]. Chem. Erde 71, 207-226). Yet younger ages, including those coincident with the Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB; ca. 3900Ma), are absent from Millbillillie zircon. This is attributable to primordial changes to the velocity distributions of impactors in the asteroid belt, and differences in mineral closure temperatures (Tc zircon≫apatite).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-378
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2015



  • Asteroid Vesta
  • Asteroids dynamics
  • Cosmochemistry
  • Geological processes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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