Metal-silicate fractionation in the surface dust layers of accreting planetesimals: Implications for the formation of ordinary chondrites and the nature of asteroid surfaces

by Huang, S. X.; Akridge, G.; Sears, D. W. G.

Some of the most primitive solar system materials available for study in the laboratory are the ordinary chondrites, the largest meteorite class. The size and distribution of the chondrules (silicate beads) and metal, which leads to the definition of the H, L, and LL classes, suggest sorting before or during aggregation. We suggest that meteorite parent bodies (probably asteroids) had thick dusty surfaces during their early evolution that were easily mobilized by gases evolving from their interiors. Density and size sorting would have occurred in the surface layers as the upward drag forces of the gases (mainly water) acted against the downward force of gravity. The process is analogous to the industrially important process of fluidization and sorting in pyroclastic volcanics. We calculate that gas flow velocities and gas fluxes for the regolith of an asteroid-sized object heated by the impact of accreting objects or by Al-26 would have been sufficient for fluidization. It can also explain, quantitatively in some cases, the observed metal-silicate sorting of ordinary chondrites, which has long been ascribed to processes occurring in the primordial solar nebula. Formation of the chondrites in the thick dynamic regolith is consistent with the major properties of chondritic meteorites (i.e., redox state, petrologic type, cooling rate, matrix abundance). These ideas have implications for the nature of asteroid surfaces and the virtual lack of asteroids with ordinary chondrite-like surfaces.

Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets
Start Page
2169-9100; 2169-9097