The University of Arizona

Low-energy helium ion irradiation-induced amorphization and chemical changes in olivine: Insights for silicate dust evolution in the interstellar medium

Philippe Carrez, Karine Demyk, Patrick Cordier, Léon Gengembre, Jean Grimblot, Louis D'Hendecourt, Anthony P. Jones, Hugues Leroux


We present the results of irradiation experiments aimed at understanding the structural and chemical evolution of silicate grains in the interstellar medium (ISM). A series of He+ irradiation experiments have been performed on ultra-thin olivine, (Mg,Fe)2SiO4, samples having a high surface/volume (S/V) ratio, comparable to the expected S/V ratio of interstellar dust. The energies and fluences of the helium ions used in this study have been chosen to simulate the irradiation of interstellar dust grains in supernovae shock waves. The samples were mainly studied using Analytical Transmission Electron Microscopy (ATEM). Our results show that olivine is amorphized by low-energy ion irradiation. Changes in composition are also observed. In particular, irradiation leads to a decrease of the atomic ratios O/Si and Mg/Si as determined by X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) and by X-ray Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS). This chemical evolution is due to the differential sputtering of atoms near the surfaces. We also observe a reduction process resulting in the formation of metallic iron. The use of very thin samples emphasizes the role of surface/volume ratio and thus the importance of the particle size in the irradiation-induced effects. These results allow us to account qualitatively for the observed properties of interstellar grains in different environments, i.e., at different stages of their evolution : chemical and structural evolution in the interstellar medium, from olivine to pyroxene-type and from crystalline to amorphous silicates, porosity of cometary grains as well as the formation of metallic inclusions in silicates


low-energy ion irradiation;helium ions ; irradiation-induced effects;olivine;Analytical Transmission Electron Microscopy (ATEM)

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