Nanophase, Low-Ni Metal Grains in Fine-grained Rims in the Murchison CM2 Chondrite: Insights into the Survival of Metal Grains During Aqueous AlterationAqueous alteration has played a significant role in the geological evolution of almost all the chondrite groups and attests to the importance of water during the earliest history of the solar system. Among the chondrites that show evidence of aqueous alteration the CM chondrites, in particular, have received considerable attention, because of their primitive composition and the fact that they preserve a record of incomplete hydration. Petrologic studies of this group of meteorites have helped provide important insights into aqueous alteration processes and the nature of the alteration products. However, due to the complex history of these chondrites, important details of the alteration remain enigmatic. Among the major problems to be resolved are the location and timing of aqueous alteration as well as the relationship between alteration and brecciation. Although many authors favor aqueous alteration within a parent body environment, there is also evidence that some of the components of CM chondrites may have experienced aqueous alteration prior to accretion. One of the key lines of evidence for alteration in a pre-accretionary environment is the presence of unaltered metal grains associated with hydrated phases. Low-Ni metal (kamacite) is typically one of the first phases in CM chondrites that alters in the presence of water. However, in some CM chondrites, such as Yamato 791198, micron-sized metal grains are present within the hydrated fine-grained rim material around chondrules. In addition, nanometer-sized grains that have been interpreted as being unaltered metal particles have been reported in the relatively heavily altered CM chondrite, ALH 81002. In most cases, these occurrences have been interpreted as being the result of mixing of anhydrous and hydrous materials prior to accretion. According to this hypothesis, the metal grains remain unaltered because little or no post-accretionary alteration took place. Whilst such a scenario is plausible, no alternative explanations such as the presence of submicron protective layers or a minor element chemistry that might inhibit oxidation have been investigated in detail. During a study of the distribution of carbonaceous material in fine-grained rims on chondrules in Murchison, previously unidentified, nanometer-sized metal grains were observed. These grains were characterized in detail using high resolution TEM and energy filtered TEM (EFTEM) and provide important insights into how metal grains in CM chondrites may survive aqueous alteration.
Brearley, Adrian J. (New Mexico Univ. Albuquerque, NM, United States)