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Concept: Carbonaceous chondrite


Carbonaceous asteroids may have been the precursors to the terrestrial planets, yet despite their importance, numerous attempts to model their early solar system geological history have not converged on a solution. The assumption has been that hydrothermal alteration was occurring in rocky asteroids with material properties similar to meteorites. However, these bodies would have accreted as a high-porosity aggregate of igneous clasts (chondrules) and fine-grained primordial dust, with ice filling much of the pore space. Short-lived radionuclides melted the ice, and aqueous alteration of anhydrous minerals followed. However, at the moment when the ice melted, no geological process had acted to lithify this material. It would have been a mud, rather than a rock. We tested the effect of removing the assumption of lithification. We find that if the body accretes unsorted chondrules, then large-scale mud convection is capable of producing a size-sorted chondrule population (if the body accretes an aerodynamically sorted chondrule population, then no further sorting occurs). Mud convection both moderates internal temperature and reduces variation in temperature throughout the object. As the system is thoroughly mixed, soluble elements are not fractionated, preserving primitive chemistry. Isotopic and redox heterogeneity in secondary phases over short length scales is expected, as individual particles experience a range of temperature and water-rock histories until they are brought together in their final configuration at the end of convection. These results are consistent with observations from aqueously altered meteorites (CI and CM chondrites) and spectra of primitive asteroids. The “mudball” model appears to be a general solution: Bodies spanning a ×1000 mass range show similar behavior.

Concepts: Chondrite, Carbonaceous chondrite, Earth, Chemistry, Sedimentary rock, Solar System, Planet, Mars


We report the first occurrence of a natural quasicrystal with decagonal symmetry. The quasicrystal, with composition Al71Ni24Fe5, was discovered in the Khatyrka meteorite, a recently described CV3 carbonaceous chondrite. Icosahedrite, Al63Cu24Fe13, the first natural quasicrystal to be identified, was found in the same meteorite. The new quasicrystal was found associated with steinhardtite (Al38Ni32Fe30), Fe-poor steinhardtite (Al50Ni40Fe10), Al-bearing trevorite (NiFe2O4) and Al-bearing taenite (FeNi). Laboratory studies of decagonal Al71Ni24Fe5 have shown that it is stable over a narrow range of temperatures, 1120 K to 1200 K at standard pressure, providing support for our earlier conclusion that the Khatyrka meteorite reached heterogeneous high temperatures [1100 < T(K) ≤ 1500] and then rapidly cooled after being heated during an impact-induced shock that occurred in outer space 4.5 Gya. The occurrences of metallic Al alloyed with Cu, Ni, and Fe raises new questions regarding conditions that can be achieved in the early solar nebula.

Concepts: Iron, Chondrite, Carbonaceous chondrite, Copper, Nickel, Meteorite, Iron meteorite, Taenite


We show that carbonaceous chondrite meteorites actively and selectively catalyze the formation of relevant prebiotic molecules from formamide in aqueous media. Specific catalytic behaviours are observed, depending on the origin and composition of the chondrites and on the type of water present in the system (activity: thermal > seawater > pure). We report the one-pot synthesis of all the natural nucleobases, of aminoacids and of eight carboxylic acids (forming, from pyruvic acid to citric acid, a continuous series encompassing a large part of the extant Krebs cycle). These data shape a general prebiotic scenario consisting of carbonaceous meteorites acting as catalysts and of a volcanic-like environment providing heat, thermal waters and formamide. This scenario also applies to the other solar system locations that experienced rich delivery of carbonaceous materials, and whose physical-chemical conditions could have allowed chemical evolution.

Concepts: Acid, Metabolism, Chondrite, Carbonaceous chondrite, Water, Hydrogen, Carboxylic acid, Citric acid


Recordings of magnetic fields, thought to be crucial to our solar system’s rapid accretion, are potentially retained in unaltered nanometric low-Ni kamacite (~ metallic Fe) grains encased within dusty olivine crystals, found in the chondrules of unequilibrated chondrites. However, most of these kamacite grains are magnetically non-uniform, so their ability to retain four-billion-year-old magnetic recordings cannot be estimated by previous theories, which assume only uniform magnetization. Here, we demonstrate that non-uniformly magnetized nanometric kamacite grains are stable over solar system timescales and likely the primary carrier of remanence in dusty olivine. By performing in-situ temperature-dependent nanometric magnetic measurements using off-axis electron holography, we demonstrate the thermal stability of multi-vortex kamacite grains from the chondritic Bishunpur meteorite. Combined with numerical micromagnetic modeling, we determine the stability of the magnetization of these grains. Our study shows that dusty olivine kamacite grains are capable of retaining magnetic recordings from the accreting solar system.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Chondrite, Carbonaceous chondrite, Solar System, Mars, Magnetism, Meteorite, Olivine


Electron- or X-ray-induced characteristic X-ray analysis has been widely used to determine chemical compositions of materials in vast research fields. In recent years, analysis of characteristic X-rays from muonic atoms, in which a muon is captured, has attracted attention because both a muon beam and a muon-induced characteristic X-ray have high transmission abilities. Here we report the first non-destructive elemental analysis of a carbonaceous chondrite using one of the world-leading intense direct current muon beam source (MuSIC; MUon Science Innovative Channel). We successfully detected characteristic muonic X-rays of Mg, Si, Fe, O, S and C from Jbilet Winselwan CM chondrite, of which carbon content is about 2 wt%, and the obtained elemental abundance pattern was consistent with that of CM chondrites. Because of its high sensitivity to carbon, non-destructive elemental analysis with a muon beam can be a novel powerful tool to characterize future retuned samples from carbonaceous asteroids.

Concepts: Electron, Oxygen, Carbonaceous chondrite, Hydrogen, Magnesium, Atom, Chemical element, Carbon


Magnetic fields are proposed to have played a critical role in some of the most enigmatic processes of planetary formation by mediating the rapid accretion of disk material onto the central star and the formation of the first solids. However, there have been no experimental constraints on the intensity of these fields. Here we show that dusty olivine-bearing chondrules from the Semarkona meteorite were magnetized in a nebular field of 54 ± 21 μT. This intensity supports chondrule formation by nebular shocks or planetesimal collisions rather than by electric currents, the x-wind, or other mechanisms near the sun. This implies that background magnetic fields in the terrestrial planet-forming region were likely 5-54 μT, which is sufficient to account for measured rates of mass and angular momentum transport in protoplanetary disks.

Concepts: Chondrite, Carbonaceous chondrite, Momentum, Sun, Electric current, Planet, Mars, Formation and evolution of the Solar System


The composition of the Sutter’s Mill meteorite insoluble organic material was studied both in toto by solid-state NMR spectroscopy of the powders and by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analyses of compounds released upon their hydrothermal treatment. Results were compared with those obtained for other meteorites of diverse classifications (Murray, GRA 95229, Murchison, Orgueil, and Tagish Lake) and found to be so far unique in regard to the molecular species released. These include, in addition to O-containing aromatic compounds, complex polyether- and ester-containing alkyl molecules of prebiotic appeal and never detected in meteorites before. The Sutter’s Mill fragments we analyzed had likely been altered by heat, and the hydrothermal conditions of the experiments realistically mimic early Earth settings, such as near volcanic activity or impact craters. On this basis, the data suggest a far larger availability of meteoritic organic materials for planetary environments than previously assumed and that molecular evolution on the early Earth could have benefited from accretion of carbonaceous meteorites both directly with soluble compounds and, for a more protracted time, through alteration, processing, and release from their insoluble organic materials.

Concepts: Carbonaceous chondrite, Plate tectonics, Solubility, Mars, Chemical substance, Impact event, Organic matter, Meteorite


We present evidence that a rock sample found in the Koryak Mountains in Russia and containing icosahedrite, an icosahedral quasicrystalline phase with composition Al(63)Cu(24)Fe(13), is part of a meteorite, likely formed in the early solar system about 4.5 Gya. The quasicrystal grains are intergrown with diopside, forsterite, stishovite, and additional metallic phases [khatyrkite (CuAl(2)), cupalite (CuAl), and β-phase (AlCuFe)]. This assemblage, in turn, is enclosed in a white rind consisting of diopside, hedenbergite, spinel (MgAl(2)O(4)), nepheline, and forsterite. Particularly notable is a grain of stishovite (from the interior), a tetragonal polymorph of silica that only occurs at ultrahigh pressures (≥ 10 Gpa), that contains an inclusion of quasicrystal. An extraterrestrial origin is inferred from secondary ion mass spectrometry (18)O/(16)O and (17)O/(16)O measurements of the pyroxene and olivine intergrown with the metal that show them to have isotopic compositions unlike any terrestrial minerals and instead overlap those of anhydrous phases in carbonaceous chondrite meteorites. The spinel from the white rind has an isotopic composition suggesting that it was part of a calcium-aluminum-rich inclusion similar to those found in CV3 chondrites. The mechanism that produced this exotic assemblage is not yet understood. The assemblage (metallic copper-aluminum alloy) is extremely reduced, and the close association of aluminum (high temperature refractory lithophile) with copper (low temperature chalcophile) is unexpected. Nevertheless, our evidence indicates that quasicrystals can form naturally under astrophysical conditions and remain stable over cosmic timescales, giving unique insights on their existence in nature and stability.

Concepts: Crystal, Chondrite, Carbonaceous chondrite, Mars, Aluminium, Meteorite, Olivine, Quasicrystal


The early evolution of planetesimals and planets can be constrained using variations in the abundance of neodymium-142 ((142)Nd), which arise from the initial distribution of (142)Nd within the protoplanetary disk and the radioactive decay of the short-lived samarium-146 isotope ((146)Sm). The apparent offset in (142)Nd abundance found previously between chondritic meteorites and Earth has been interpreted either as a possible consequence of nucleosynthetic variations within the protoplanetary disk or as a function of the differentiation of Earth very early in its history. Here we report high-precision Sm and Nd stable and radiogenic isotopic compositions of four calcium-aluminium-rich refractory inclusions (CAIs) from three CV-type carbonaceous chondrites, and of three whole-rock samples of unequilibrated enstatite chondrites. The CAIs, which are the first solids formed by condensation from the nebular gas, provide the best constraints for the isotopic evolution of the early Solar System. Using the mineral isochron method for individual CAIs, we find that CAIs without isotopic anomalies in Nd compared to the terrestrial composition share a (146)Sm/(144)Sm-(142)Nd/(144)Nd isotopic evolution with Earth. The average (142)Nd/(144)Nd composition for pristine enstatite chondrites that we calculate coincides with that of the accessible silicate layers of Earth. This relationship between CAIs, enstatite chondrites and Earth can only be a result of Earth having inherited the same initial abundance of (142)Nd and chondritic proportions of Sm and Nd. Consequently, (142)Nd isotopic heterogeneities found in other CAIs and among chondrite groups may arise from extrasolar grains that were present in the disk and incorporated in different proportions into these planetary objects. Our finding supports a chondritic Sm/Nd ratio for the bulk silicate Earth and, as a consequence, chondritic abundances for other refractory elements. It also removes the need for a hidden reservoir or for collisional erosion scenarios to explain the (142)Nd/(144)Nd composition of Earth.

Concepts: Oxygen, Chondrite, Carbonaceous chondrite, Chondrule, Solar System, Planet, Meteorite, Asteroid


Transient heating events that formed calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (CAIs) and chondrules are fundamental processes in the evolution of the solar protoplanetary disk, but their chronology is not understood. Using U-corrected Pb-Pb dating, we determined absolute ages of individual CAIs and chondrules from primitive meteorites. CAIs define a brief formation interval corresponding to an age of 4567.30 ± 0.16 million years (My), whereas chondrule ages range from 4567.32 ± 0.42 to 4564.71 ± 0.30 My. These data refute the long-held view of an age gap between CAIs and chondrules and, instead, indicate that chondrule formation started contemporaneously with CAIs and lasted ~3 My. This time scale is similar to disk lifetimes inferred from astronomical observations, suggesting that the formation of CAIs and chondrules reflects a process intrinsically linked to the secular evolution of accretionary disks.

Concepts: Chondrite, Carbonaceous chondrite, Meteorites, Chronology, Absolute, Age, Disc, Chondrule