- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published about 5 years ago
Large meteors (or superbolides [Ceplecha Z, et al. (1999) Meteoroids 1998:37-54]), although rare in recorded history, give sobering testimony to civilization’s inherent vulnerability. A not-so-subtle reminder came on the morning of February 15, 2013, when a large meteoroid hurtled into the Earth’s atmosphere, forming a superbolide near the city of Chelyabinsnk, Russia, ∼1,500 km east of Moscow, Russia [Ivanova MA, et al. (2013) Abstracts of the 76th Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society, 5366]. The object exploded in the stratosphere, and the ensuing shock wave blasted the city of Chelyabinsk, damaging structures and injuring hundreds. Details of trajectory are important for determining its specific source, the likelihood of future events, and potential mitigation measures. Earth-viewing environmental satellites can assist in these assessments. Here we examine satellite observations of the Chelyabinsk superbolide debris trail, collected within minutes of its entry. Estimates of trajectory are derived from differential views of the significantly parallax-displaced [e.g., Hasler AF (1981) Bull Am Meteor Soc 52:194-212] debris trail. The 282.7 ± 2.3° azimuth of trajectory, 18.5 ± 3.8° slope to the horizontal, and 17.7 ± 0.5 km/s velocity derived from these satellites agree well with parameters inferred from the wealth of surface-based photographs and amateur videos. More importantly, the results demonstrate the general ability of Earth-viewing satellites to provide valuable insight on trajectory reconstruction in the more likely scenario of sparse or nonexistent surface observations.
Direct evidence of complex prebiotic chemistry from a water-rich world in the outer solar system is provided by the 4.5-billion-year-old halite crystals hosted in the Zag and Monahans (1998) meteorites. This study offers the first comprehensive organic analysis of the soluble and insoluble organic compounds found in the millimeter-sized halite crystals containing brine inclusions and sheds light on the nature and activity of aqueous fluids on a primitive parent body. Associated with these trapped brines are organic compounds exhibiting wide chemical variations representing organic precursors, intermediates, and reaction products that make up life’s precursor molecules such as amino acids. The organic compounds also contain a mixture of C-, O-, and N-bearing macromolecular carbon materials exhibiting a wide range of structural order, as well as aromatic, ketone, imine, and/or imidazole compounds. The enrichment in 15N is comparable to the organic matter in pristine Renazzo-type carbonaceous chondrites, which reflects the sources of interstellar 15N, such as ammonia and amino acids. The amino acid content of the Zag halite deviates from the meteorite matrix, supporting an exogenic origin of the halite, and therefore, the Zag meteorite contains organics synthesized on two distinct parent bodies. Our study suggests that the asteroidal parent body where the halite precipitated, potentially asteroid 1 Ceres, shows evidence for a complex combination of biologically and prebiologically relevant molecules.
The timing and nature of igneous activity recorded at a single Mars ejection site can be determined from the isotope analyses of Martian meteorites. Northwest Africa (NWA) 7635 has an Sm-Nd crystallization age of 2.403 ± 0.140 billion years, and isotope data indicate that it is derived from an incompatible trace element-depleted mantle source similar to that which produced a geochemically distinct group of 327- to 574-million-year-old “depleted” shergottites. Cosmogenic nuclide data demonstrate that NWA 7635 was ejected from Mars 1.1 million years ago (Ma), as were at least 10 other depleted shergottites. The shared ejection age is consistent with a common ejection site for these meteorites. The spatial association of 327- to 2403-Ma depleted shergottites indicates >2 billion years of magmatism from a long-lived and geochemically distinct volcanic center near the ejection site.
Meteorites represent the only samples available for study on Earth of a number of planetary bodies. The minerals within meteorites therefore hold the key to addressing numerous questions about our solar system. Of particular interest is the Ca-phosphate mineral merrillite, the anhydrous end-member of the merrillite-whitlockite solid solution series. For example, the anhydrous nature of merrillite in Martian meteorites has been interpreted as evidence of water-limited late-stage Martian melts. However, recent research on apatite in the same meteorites suggests higher water content in melts. One complication of using meteorites rather than direct samples is the shock compression all meteorites have experienced, which can alter meteorite mineralogy. Here we show whitlockite transformation into merrillite by shock-compression levels relevant to meteorites, including Martian meteorites. The results open the possibility that at least part of meteoritic merrillite may have originally been H(+)-bearing whitlockite with implications for interpreting meteorites and the need for future sample return.
Impact ejected rocks are targets for life detection missions to Mars. The Martian subsurface is more favourable to organic preservation than the surface owing to an attenuation of radiation and physical separation from oxidising materials with increasing depth. Impact events bring materials to the surface where they may be accessed without complicated drilling procedures. On Earth, different assemblages of organic matter types are derived from varying depositional environments. Here we assess whether these different types of organic materials can survive impact events without corruption. We subjected four terrestrial organic matter types to elevated pressures and temperatures in piston-cylinder experiments followed by chemical characterisation using whole-rock pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Our data reveal that long chain hydrocarbon-dominated organic matter (types I and II; mainly microbial or algal) are unresistant to pressure whereas aromatic hydrocarbon-dominated organic matter types (types III and IV; mainly land plant, metamorphosed or degraded, displaying some superficial chemical similarities to abiotic meteoritic organic matter) are relatively resistant. This suggests that the impact excavated record of potential biology on Mars will be unavoidably biased, with microbial organic matter underrepresented while metamorphosed, degraded or abiotic meteoritic organic matter types will be selectively preserved.
We report the first occurrence of an icosahedral quasicrystal with composition Al62.0(8)Cu31.2(8)Fe6.8(4), outside the measured equilibrium stability field at standard pressure of the previously reported Al-Cu-Fe quasicrystal (AlxCuyFez, with x between 61 and 64, y between 24 and 26, z between 12 and 13%). The new icosahedral mineral formed naturally and was discovered in the Khatyrka meteorite, a recently described CV3 carbonaceous chondrite that experienced shock metamorphism, local melting (with conditions exceeding 5 GPa and 1,200 °C in some locations), and rapid cooling, all of which likely resulted from impact-induced shock in space. This is the first example of a quasicrystal composition discovered in nature prior to being synthesized in the laboratory. The new composition was found in a grain that has a separate metal assemblage containing icosahedrite (Al63Cu24Fe13), currently the only other known naturally occurring mineral with icosahedral symmetry (though the latter composition had already been observed in the laboratory prior to its discovery in nature). The chemistry of both the icosahedral phases was characterized by electron microprobe, and the rotational symmetry was confirmed by means of electron backscatter diffraction.
The Earth-Moon system has unique chemical and isotopic signatures compared with other planetary bodies; any successful model for the origin of this system therefore has to satisfy these chemical and isotopic constraints. The Moon is substantially depleted in volatile elements such as potassium compared with the Earth and the bulk solar composition, and it has long been thought to be the result of a catastrophic Moon-forming giant impact event. Volatile-element-depleted bodies such as the Moon were expected to be enriched in heavy potassium isotopes during the loss of volatiles; however such enrichment was never found. Here we report new high-precision potassium isotope data for the Earth, the Moon and chondritic meteorites. We found that the lunar rocks are significantly (>2σ) enriched in the heavy isotopes of potassium compared to the Earth and chondrites (by around 0.4 parts per thousand). The enrichment of the heavy isotope of potassium in lunar rocks compared with those of the Earth and chondrites can be best explained as the result of the incomplete condensation of a bulk silicate Earth vapour at an ambient pressure that is higher than 10 bar. We used these coupled constraints of the chemical loss and isotopic fractionation of K to compare two recent dynamic models that were used to explain the identical non-mass-dependent isotope composition of the Earth and the Moon. Our K isotope result is inconsistent with the low-energy disk equilibration model, but supports the high-energy, high-angular-momentum giant impact model for the origin of the Moon. High-precision potassium isotope data can also be used as a ‘palaeo-barometer’ to reveal the physical conditions during the Moon-forming event.
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.
From mid-Ordovician ∼470 Myr-old limestone >100 fossil L-chondritic meteorites have been recovered, representing the markedly enhanced flux of meteorites to Earth following the breakup of the L-chondrite parent body. Recently one anomalous meteorite, Österplana 065 (Öst 65), was found in the same beds that yield L chondrites. The cosmic-ray exposure age of Öst 65 shows that it may be a fragment of the impactor that broke up the L-chondrite parent body. Here we show that in a chromium versus oxygen-isotope plot Öst 65 falls outside all fields encompassing the known meteorite types. This may be the first documented example of an ‘extinct’ meteorite, that is, a meteorite type that does not fall on Earth today because its parent body has been consumed by collisions. The meteorites found on Earth today apparently do not give a full representation of the kind of bodies in the asteroid belt ∼500 Myr ago.
The asteroid impact near the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on 15 February 2013 was the largest airburst on Earth since the 1908 Tunguska event, causing a natural disaster in an area with a population exceeding one million. Because it occurred in an era with modern consumer electronics, field sensors, and laboratory techniques, unprecedented measurements were made of the impact event and the meteoroid that caused it. Here, we document the account of what happened, as understood now, using comprehensive data obtained from astronomy, planetary science, geophysics, meteorology, meteoritics, and cosmochemistry, and from social science surveys. A good understanding of the Chelyabinsk incident provides a unique opportunity to calibrate the event, with implications for the study of near-Earth objects and developing hazard mitigation strategies for planetary protection.