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Title: The parent bodies of fine-grained micrometeorites : a petrologic & spectroscopic perspective
Author: Suttle, Martin david
ISNI:       0000 0004 7658 4217
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2018
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Micrometeorites are millimetre-scale cosmic dust grains, derived from asteroids and comets. They represent the largest flux of extraterrestrial material currently falling to Earth, with an estimated contribution of 20,000-60,000 tons per year. In this thesis, the geological history, parent body properties and atmospheric entry of fine-grained micrometeorites are investigated through micro-analysis and spectroscopic techniques. The degree of aqueous alteration within fine-grained micrometeorites was investigated using criteria initially developed for CM chondrites (Chapt.3). This revealed that most particles are intensely altered, with petrologic subtypes < CM2.3. Textural and geochemical evidence of aqueous alteration is seen in the form of hydrated CAIs, hydrated sulfides, pseudomorphic chondrules and complex intergrown and cross-cut assemblages of phyllosilicate, which attest to extended periods in contact with liquid water. Likewise, the apparent overabundance of CM-like matrix and the relative paucity of C2 chondrule material among fine-grained micrometeorites suggest that the parent bodies of fine-grained micrometeorites are predominantly intensely aqueously altered bodies. This study also identified the first evidence for shock deformation in fine-grained micrometeorites (Chapt.6). Weak, pervasive petrofabrics, formed by aligned phyllosilicates and inferred from dehydration crack orientations were observed in the majority of micrometeorites studied (21). This requires relatively low peak pressures (< 5GPa) and is most likely achieved by successive low-intensity impact events. The presence of a single micrometeorite containing brittle deformation cataclasis fabrics also provides evidence for brittle deformation shock processing of micrometeorites. The first near-IR spectra of micrometeorites were collected and directly compared against the NIR spectra of young C-type asteroids (Chapt.8). Although these comparisons proved inconclusive, owing to limitations in the quality of the micrometeorite spectra, this study identified the first evidence of hydroxyl-group absorption bands at NIR wavelengths in Veritas family asteroids, suggesting the presence of intact phyllosilicates on their surfaces and thereby adding support to the genetic link between fine-grained micrometeorites and C-type asteroids. Mid-IR spectroscopy revealed how micrometeorite mineralogy evolves during flash heating in the upper atmosphere, demonstrating that solid state recrystallization preserves pre-atmospheric textures, despite major changes in the mineralogy (Chapt.4). Spatially resolved Raman spectroscopy was used to investigate thermal gradients within micrometeorites during atmospheric entry and revealed that most micrometeorite cores preserve low-temperature (< 300°C) carbonaceous phases inherited from their parent asteroid (Chapt.5). The development of secondary interconnected porosity was described for the first time, detailing how the growth and expansion of dehydration cracks driven by the out-gassing of volatiles leads to the formation of branching and sinuous channels (Chapt.7). These channels play an important role in the efficient heating of micrometeorite cores resulting in partial melting as scoriaceous micrometeorites are formed. In addition, the development of secondary porosity significantly lowers the mechanical strength of micrometeoroids, promoting their disruption in the atmosphere. Finally, a small-scale study, attempting to retrieve fine-grained micrometeorites preserved in ancient sedimentary rocks was trailed (Chapt.9). This led to the recovery of a new collection of fossil micrometeorites derived from Cretaceous chalk. Although no unmelted micrometeorites were discovered, the preserved cosmic spherules are found to have experienced complete diagenetic alteration, resulting in preserved micro-textures and replaced terrestrial mineralogies. A repeat study at a different time period and location also found cosmic spherules with identical preservation styles, suggesting that diagenetically altered micrometeorites most likely represent the most common form of cosmic dust on Earth.
Supervisor: Genge, Matthew Sponsor: Science and Technology Facilities Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral