Understanding the mechanisms of formation of nanophase compounds from Stardust: Combined experimental and observational approach

Neyda M. Abreu, Frans J.M. Rietmeijer, Joseph A. Nuth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


We have experimentally produced nanophase sulfide compounds and magnetite embedded in Si-rich amorphous materials by flash-cooling of a gas stream. Similar assemblages are ubiquitous, and often dominant components of samples of impact-processed silica aerogel tiles and submicron grains from comet 81P/Wild 2 were retrieved by NASA's Stardust mission. Although the texture and compositions of nanosulfide compounds have been reproduced experimentally, the mechanisms of formation of these minerals and their relationship with the surrounding amorphous materials have not been established. In this study, we present evidence that both of these materials may not only be produced through cooling of a superheated liquid but they may have also been formed simultaneously by flash-cooling and subsequent deposition of a gas dominated by Fe-S-SiO-O2. In a dust generator at the Goddard Space Flight Center, samples are produced by direct gas-phase condensation from gaseous precursors followed by deposition, which effectively isolates the effects of gas-phase reactions from the effects of melting and condensation. High-resolution transmission electron microscopy images and energy-dispersive spectroscopy analysis show that these experiments replicate key features of materials from type B and type C Stardust tracks, including textures, distribution of inclusions, nanophase size, and compositional diversity. We argue that gas-phase reactions may have played a significant role in the capture environment for nanophase materials. Our results are consistent with a potential progenitor assemblage of micron and submicron-sized sulfides and submicron silica-bearing phases, which are commonly observed in chondritic interplanetary dust particles and in the matrices of the most pristine chondritic meteorites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1082-1096
Number of pages15
JournalMeteoritics and Planetary Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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