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Early Earth Impacts May Explain Mysterious Global Mantle Structures

origin of Earth's mantle structures

Exciting new research simulations strengthen the idea that a catastrophic crash between Earth and a Mars-sized protoplanet called Theia over 4 billion years ago left traces deep inside our planet. Specifically, the impacts could explain the formation of two weird continent-sized blobs embedded halfway to Earth’s core, known as thermochemical piles or LLSVPs (Large Low-Shear-Velocity Provinces). These giant structures have unusually high iron content that was long mysterious. Now, high-resolution modeling shows how Theia’s debris sank inward but did not dissolve, accumulating into these distinct piles over eons.

The Findings Fit Key Details of the Giant Impact Hypothesis

The Giant Impact Hypothesis explains how the collision between proto-Earth and Theia led to the formation of the Moon in the Hadean Eon over 4 billion years ago. New simulations show the core stayed insulated during this crash. Theia debris remained distinct and did not dissolve into the mantle as previously thought. This matches the hypothesis that portions of Theia sank deep into Earth’s interior. The iron-rich composition slowed seismic waves passing through these regions, allowing their detection as anomalous structures. In addition, you can also read an article on- Unlocking the Moon’s Origins: Did a Collision with Theia Create Earth’s Satellite?

Earth as a Magma Ocean in the Hadean Eon 

The Hadean Eon from 4.5 to 4 billion years ago was a time of intense bombardment. Earth had only recently formed and was still molten from accretion. Without a solid outer crust, objects could penetrate far into the hot fluid mantle when they collided with the young planet. The mantle’s viscosity was higher than today due to residual heat from formation and more radiogenic heating. It also contained more water, adding to the fluidity. During this time, Earth was likely a magma ocean extending hundreds of kilometers down.

Cataclysmic Collisions Like Luna’s Birth Were Common  

The Late Heavy Bombardment period from 4.1 to 3.8 billion years ago saw a spike in impacts. The era was characterized by countless crashes with protoplanets and planetesimals. One of the most dramatic was the impact that formed Earth’s Moon. In the 1980s, scientists found two continent-sized anomalous regions enriched in iron deep in Earth’s mantle. But their origins were unknown. Based on their composition, scientists proposed they could be remnants of Theia. But only recently has evidence built to support this idea. Additionally, you can also read about- Scientists Make 3 Incredible Discoveries on the Moon

High-Resolution Simulations Reveal New Clues

Previous simulations at lower resolutions missed key details that led to unclear conclusions about the connection between the mantle anomalies and Theia. But new high-resolution modeling by geophysicist Qian Yuan and colleagues provides a more compelling case. Their simulations show the core stayed isolated during the Giant Impact, unlike prior efforts. This insight indicates Theia debris remained distinct, slowly accumulating into the thermochemical piles detected today. The higher percentage of iron in Theia explains the slower seismic waves. If you want you can also read- Moon Lovers Treat: Skywatchers to be Observed 4 More Special Moon in this Year

Lasting Influences on Earth’s History and Evolution

The continent-sized mantle structures have surely influenced plate tectonics, climate, and the course of evolution over billions of years. Their antiquity means they impacted early conditions, perhaps affecting the onset of subduction and continents, the first surviving minerals, and the environment that shaped early life. Unlocking their influence may reveal new insights into our planet’s biography and habitability. The findings open new avenues of research into Earth’s formation and life’s beginnings.

You May Find Interest: Scientists Discover New Structure in Earth’s Inner Core


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