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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Formation of an ultracarbonaceous Antarctic micrometeorite through minimal aqueous alteration in a small porous icy body


A comprehensive study of the organic chemistry and mineralogy of an ultracarbonaceous micrometeorite (UCAMM D05IB80) collected from near the Dome Fuji Station, Antarctica, was carried out to understand the genetic relationship among organic materials, silicates, and water. The micrometeorite is composed of a dense aggregate of ∼5 µm-sized hollow ellipsoidal organic material containing submicrometer-sized phases such as glass with embedded metal and sulfides (GEMS) and mineral grains. There is a wide area of organic material (∼15 × 15 μm) in its interior. Low-Ca pyroxene is much more abundant than olivine and shows various Mg/(Mg + Fe) ratios ranging from ∼1.0 to 0.78, which is common to previous works on UCAMMs. By contrast, GEMS grains in this UCAMM have unusual chemical compositions. They are depleted in both Mg and S, which suggests that these elements were leached out from the GEMS grains during very weak aqueous alteration, without the formation of phyllosilicates. The organic materials have two textures—smooth and globular with an irregular outline—and these are composed of imine, nitrile and/or aromatic nitrogen heterocycles, and amide. The ratio of nitrogen to carbon (N/C) in the smooth region of the organics is ∼0.15, which is five times higher than that of insoluble organic macromolecules in types 1 and 2 carbonaceous chondritic meteorites. In addition, the UCAMM organic materials are soluble in epoxy and are thus hydrophilic; this polar nature indicates that they are very primitive. The surface of the material is coated with an inorganic layer, a few nanometers thick, that consists of C, O, Si, S, and Fe. Sulfur is also contained in the interior, implying the presence of organosulfur moieties. There are no isotopic anomalies of D, 13C, or 15N in the organic material. Interstellar photochemistry alone would not be sufficient to explain the N/C ratio of the UCAMM organics; therefore, we suggest that a very small amount of fluid on a comet must have been necessary for the formation of the UCAMM. The GEMS grains depleted in Mg and S in the UCAMM prove a very weak degree of aqueous alteration; weaker than that of carbonaceous chondrites. Short-duration weak alteration probably caused by planetesimal shock locally melted cometary ice grains and released water that dissolved the organics; the fluid would likely have not mobilized because of the very low thermal conductivity of the porous icy body. This event allowed the formation of the large organic puddle of the UCAMM, as well as organic matter sulfurization, formation of thin membrane-like layers of minerals, and deformation of organic nanoglobules.

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