Space weathering and the low sulfur abundance of Eros

by Kracher, A.; Sears, D. W. G.

The surprisingly low S/Si ratio of Asteroid 433 Eros measured by the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft probably reflects a surface depletion rather than a bulk property of the asteroid. The sulfur X-ray signal originates at a depth < 10 mu m in the regolith. The most efficient process for vaporizing minerals at the heliocentric distance of Eros are sputtering by solar wind ions and hypervelocity impacts. These are the same processes that account for the changes in optical properties of asteroids attributed to "space weathering" of lunar surface materials, although the relative importance of sputtering and impacts need not be the same for the Moon and asteroids. Troilite, Fes, which is the most important sulfide mineral in meteorites, and presumably on S-type asteroids like Eros, can be vaporized by much less energy than other major minerals, and will therefore be preferentially lost. Within 106 years either process can remove sulfide from the top 10-100 mu m of regolith. Sulfur will be lost into space and some sulfur will migrate to deeper regolith layers. We also consider other possible mechanisms of surficial sulfur depletion, such as mineral segregation in the regolith and perhaps even incipient melting. Although we consider solar wind sputtering the most likely cause of the sulfur depletion on Eros, we cannot entirely rule out other processes as causes of the sulfur deficiency. Laboratory simulations of the relevant processes can address some of the open questions. Simulations will have to be carried out in such a way that potential sulfur loss processes as well as resurfacing can be studied simultaneously, requiring a large and complex environmental chamber.

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