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Depths hold clues to dearth of xenon in air

Gas doesn’t dissolve well in deep-Earth minerals

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1:06pm, October 10, 2012

As detective stories go, the Mystery of the Missing Xenon may not have the catchiest title. But scientists in Germany say they might have cracked this long-standing enigma.

The reason there’s less xenon in Earth’s atmosphere than expected, the researchers say, is because there was never much xenon dissolved in the planet’s depths to begin with. Had there been, it would have made its way over billions of years toward the surface, there to spew into the atmosphere.

“This model is enough to explain the whole xenon deficiency,” says Svyatoslav Shcheka, a geochemist at the University of Bayreuth in Germany. He and Hans Keppler, also of Bayreuth, report the finding online October 10 in Nature.

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