Along-track compositional and textural variation in extensively melted grains returned from comet 81P/Wild 2 by the Stardust mission: Implications for capture-melting process



Abstract— Five amorphous (extensively melted) grains from Stardust aerogel capture Track 35 were examined by transmission electron microscopy (TEM); two from the bulb, two from near the bulb-stylus transition, and one from near the terminal particle. Melted grains consist largely of a texturally and compositionally heterogeneous emulsion of immiscible metal/sulfide beads nanometers to tens of nanometers in diameter in a silica-rich vesicular glass. Most metal/sulfide beads are spherical, but textures of non-spherical beads indicate that some solidified as large drops during stretching and breaking while in translational and rotational motion, and others solidified from lenses of immiscible liquid at the silicate-melt/vesicle (vapor) interface.

Melted grains appear to become richer in Fe relative to Mg, and depleted in S relative to Fe and Ni with increasing penetration distance along the aerogel capture track. Fe/S ratios are near unity in grains from the bulb of Track 35, consistent with the dominance of Fe-monosulfide minerals inferred by previous research on Stardust materials. Near-stoichiometric Fe/S in melted grains from the bulb suggests that Fe-sulfides in the bulb were dispersed and melted during formation of the bulb but did not lose S. Along-track increases in Fe/S in melted grains from the bulb through the bulb-stylus transition and continuing into the stylus indicate that S initially present as iron monosulfide may have been progressively partially volatilized and lost from the melted grains with greater penetration of the grains deeper into the aerogel during capture-melting of comet dust. Extensively melted grains from the bulbs of aerogel capture tracks may preserve better primary compositional information with less capture-related modification than grains from farther along the same capture tracks.