Chondrules born in plasma? Simulation of gas–grain interaction using plasma arcs with applications to chondrule and cosmic spherule formation

Authors

  • A. MORLOK,

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    1. Department of Physical Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK
    2. Current address: Institut für Planetologie, Wilhelm-Klemm Strasse 10, 48149 Münster, Germany
      *Corresponding author. E-mail: morlokan@uni-muenster.de
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  • Y. C. SUTTON,

    1. Department of Physical Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK
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  • N. St. J. BRAITHWAITE,

    1. Department of Physical Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK
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  • Monica M. GRADY

    1. Department of Physical Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK
    2. Department of Mineralogy, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK
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*Corresponding author. E-mail: morlokan@uni-muenster.de

Abstract–

We are investigating chondrule formation by nebular shock waves, using hot plasma as an analog of the heated gas produced by a shock wave as it passes through the protoplanetary environment. Precursor material (mainly silicates, plus metal, and sulfide) was dropped through the plasma in a basic experimental set-up designed to simulate gas–grain collisions in an unconstrained spatial environment (i.e., no interaction with furnace walls during formation). These experiments were undertaken in air (at atmospheric pressure), to act as a “proof-of-principle”—could chondrules, or chondrule-analog objects (CAO), be formed by gas–grain interaction initiated by shock fronts? Our results showed that if accelerating material through a fixed plasma field is a valid simulation of a supersonic shock wave traveling through a cloud of gas and dust, then CAO certainly could be formed by this process. Melting of and mixing between starting materials occurred, indicating temperatures of at least 1266 °C (the olivine-feldspar eutectic). The production of CAO with mixed mineralogy from monomineralic starting materials also shows that collisions between particles are an important mechanism within the chondrule formation process, such that dust aggregates are not necessarily required as chondrule precursors. Not surprisingly, there were significant differences between the synthetic CAO and natural chondrules, presumably mainly because of the oxidizing conditions of the experiment. Results also show similarity to features of micrometeorites like cosmic spherules, particularly the dendritic pattern of iron oxide crystallites produced on micrometeorites by oxidation during atmospheric entry and the formation of vesicles by evaporation of sulfides.

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