The University of Arizona

Stardust in StardustThe C, N, and O isotopic compositions of Wild 2 cometary matter in Al foil impacts

F. J. STADERMANN, P. HOPPE, C. FLOSS, P. R. HECK, F. HRZ, J. HUTH, A. T. KEARSLEY, J. LEITNER, K. K. MARHAS, K. D. MCKEEGAN, T. STEPHAN

Abstract


In January 2006, the Stardust mission successfully returned dust samples from the tail of comet 81P/Wild 2 in two principal collection media, low-density silica aerogel and Al foil. While hypervelocity impacts at the Stardust encounter velocity of 6.1 km/s into Al foils are generally highly disruptive for natural, silicate-dominated impactors, previous studies have shown that many craters retain sufficient residue to allow a determination of the elemental and isotopic compositions of the original projectile. We have used two NanoSIMS ion microprobes to perform C, N, and O isotope imaging measurements on four large (59-295 μm in diameter) and on 47 small (0.32-1.9 μm in diameter) Al-foil impact craters as part of the Stardust preliminary examination (PE). Most analyzed residues in and around these craters are isotopically normal (solar) in their C, N, and O isotopic compositions. However, the debris in one large crater shows an average 15N enrichment of ~450, which is similar to the bulk composition of some isotopically primitive interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) and to components of some primitive meteorites. A 250 nm grain in another large crater has an 17O enrichment with ~2.65 times the solar 17O/16O ratio. Such an O isotopic composition is typical for circumstellar oxide or silicate grains from red giant or asymptotic giant branch stars. The discovery of this circumstellar grain clearly establishes that there is authentic stardust in the cometary samples returned by the Stardust mission. However, the low apparent abundance of circumstellar grains in Wild 2 samples and the preponderance of isotopically normal material indicates that the cometary matter is a diverse assemblage of presolar and solar system materials.

Keywords


cometary dust;comets;presolar grains;isotope anomaly

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