Physical, Chemical, and Mineralogical Properties of Comet 81P/Wild 2 Particles Collected by Stardust

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Abstract

NASA's Stardust spacecraft collected dust from the coma of Comet 81P/Wild 2 by impact into aerogel capture cells or into Al-foils. The first direct, laboratory measurement of the physical, chemical, and mineralogical properties of cometary dust grains ranging from <10−15 to ∼10−4 g were made on this dust. Deposition of material along the entry tracks in aerogel and the presence of compound craters in the Al-foils both indicate that many of the Wild 2 particles in the size range sampled by Stardust are weakly bound aggregates of a diverse range of minerals. Mineralogical characterization of fragments extracted from tracks indicates that most tracks were dominated by olivine, low-Ca pyroxene, or Fe-sulfides, although one track was dominated by refractory minerals similar to Ca–Al inclusions in primitive meteorites. Minor mineral phases, including Cu–Fe-sulfide, Fe–Zn-sulfide, carbonate and metal oxides, were found along some tracks. The high degree of variability of the element/Fe ratios for S, Ca, Ti, Cr, Mn, Ni, Cu, Zn, and Ga among the 23 tracks from aerogel capture cells analyzed during Stardust Preliminary Examination is consistent with the mineralogical variability. This indicates Wild 2 particles have widely varying compositions at the largest size analyzed (>10 μm). Because Stardust collected particles from several jets, sampling material from different regions of the interior of Wild 2, these particles are expected to be representative of the non-volatile component of the comet over the size range sampled. Thus, the stream of particles associated with Comet Wild 2 contains individual grains of diverse elemental and mineralogical compositions, some rich in Fe and S, some in Mg, and others in Ca and Al. The mean refractory element abundance pattern in the Wild 2 particles that were examined is consistent with the CI meteorite pattern for Mg, Si, Cr, Fe, and Ni to 35%, and for Ca, Ti and Mn to 60%, but S/Si and Fe/Si both show a statistically significant depletion from the CI values and the moderately volatile elements Cu, Zn, Ga are enriched relative to CI. This elemental abundance pattern is similar to that in anhydrous, porous interplanetary dust particles (IDPs), suggesting that, if Wild 2 dust preserves the original composition of the Solar Nebula, the anhydrous, porous IDPs, not the CI meteorites, may best reflect the Solar Nebula abundances. This might be tested by elemental composition measurements on cometary meteors.

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