Isotopic fractionation of iron, potassium, and oxygen in stony cosmic spherules: Implications for heating histories and sources

Susan Taylor, C. M. O'D. Alexander, J. Delaney, P. Ma, G. F. Herzog, C. Engrand

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Atmospheric heating alters the compositions and textures of micrometeorites. To understand the changes and to test a proposed relationship between a micrometeorite's petrographic texture and its degree of heating, we made elemental and multiple isotope analyses of stony cosmic spherules (sCS) collected from the South Pole Water well. Specifically, we analyzed the elemental compositions of 94 sCS and the isotopic ratios of Fe, K and O, on 43, 12 and 8 of these sCS, respectively. Our results show that sCS classified as strongly heated generally have lower concentrations of volatile and moderately volatile elements. Of the 43 spherules analyzed for Fe isotopes, only 5 have δ57 Fe>5‰. In contrast, enrichment of 41K is pervasive (δ41K<0 in all 12 spherules analyzed) and large (up to 183‰). The determination of K isotope abundances in sCS may therefore be useful in deciphering thermal histories. Three of the eight sCS analyzed for O isotopes are mass fractionated with δ18O <30‰. We attribute two of these three δ18O enrichments to evaporative losses of oxygen in the atmosphere and the third to the presence in the parent material of an exotic phase, perhaps a sulfate or a carbonate. The K isotope and O isotope data are broadly consistent with the proposed textural classification. Because most spherules were not heated enough to fractionate Al, Mg, or Si, we compared the measured Mg/Al and Si/Al ratios directly to those of conventional meteorites and their matrices. ∼30% of the sCS have compositions outside the range defined by the bulk and the matrix compositions of known meteorite groups but consistent with those of pyroxene- and olivine-rich materials and may be samples of chondrules. The other 70% have Mg/Al and Si/Al ratios similar to those of CI, CM, CO, and CV chondrites. Natural variability of the Mg/Al and Si/Al ratios precludes the assignment of an individual sCS to a particular class of C-chondrite. Copyight

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2647-2662
Number of pages16
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 15 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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