Abstract

The fusion crusts of meteorites form due to heating during atmospheric entry and have mineralogies which are strongly influenced by changes in oxidation state. We have studied the fusion crusts of the most reduced primitive meteorite group, the enstatite chondrites, since they should demonstrate pronounced changes on oxidation. The fusion crusts are dominated by highly unequilibrated assemblages of sulphide, metal and oxide with compositions indicative of progressive oxidation by the reaction with atmospheric oxygen. Troilite becomes depleted in Ti, Cr and Mn, and enriched in Ni with increasing oxidation. Enrichments in the Ni-contents of kamacite and depletions in Si-content also occur with oxidation, although contemporaneous enrichments in Si within metal droplets occurs by partial melting. Assemblages dominated by Fe-oxide are found within fusion crusts as reaction rims on metal, as veins and within troilite-metal assemblages as droplets and formed by oxidation of metal during heating. Despite the evidence for large increases in redox state during heating, fusion crusts also contain lithophile sulphides indicating a high degree of disequilibrium during the atmospheric reprocessing of enstatite chondrite materials. Based on comparisons with experimental phase relations, ablation rates of 0.08-0.25 cm s (super -1) are predicted from the thermal gradients recorded in fusion crusts; these rates are broadly similar to those suggested for other meteorite groups.

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