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29.07.2020 – 13:50

Technische Universität München

How stony-iron meteorites form - SAPHiR multi-anvil press solves mystery of the solar system

TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY OF MUNICH

Corporate Communications Center

phone: +49 89 289 10510 - e-mail: presse@tum.de - web: www.tum.de

This text on the web: https://www.tum.de/nc/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/details/36181/

High resolution images: https://mediatum.ub.tum.de/1554164

NEWS RELEASE

How stony-iron meteorites form

SAPHiR multi-anvil press solves mystery of the solar system

Meteorites give us insight into the early development of the solar system. Using the SAPHiR instrument at the Research Neutron Source Heinz Maier-Leibnitz (FRM II) at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), a scientific team has for the first time simulated the formation of a class of stony-iron meteorites, so-called pallasites, on a purely experimental basis.

"Pallasites are the optically most beautiful and unusual meteorites," says Dr. Nicolas Walte, the first author of the study, in an enthusiastic voice. They belong to the group of stony-iron meteorites and comprise green olivine crystals embedded in nickel and iron. Despite decades of research, their exact origins remained shrouded in mystery.

To solve this puzzle, Dr. Nicolas Walte, an instrument scientist at the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Zentrum (MLZ) in Garching, together with colleagues from the Bavarian Geoinstitute at the University of Bayreuth and the Royal Holloway University of London, investigated the pallasite formation process. In a first, they succeeded in experimentally reproducing the structures of all types of pallasites.

Deployment of the SAPHiR instrument

For its experiments, the team used the SAPHiR multi-anvil press which was set up under the lead of Prof. Hans Keppler of the Bavarian Geoinstitute at the MLZ and the similar MAVO press in Bayreuth. Although neutrons from the FRM II have not yet been fed into SAPHiR, experiments under high pressures and at high temperatures can already be performed.

"With a press force of 2400 tons, SAPHiR can exert a pressure of 15 gigapascals (GPa) on samples at over 2000 °C," explains Walte. “That is double the pressures needed to convert graphite into diamond.” To simulate the collision of two celestial bodies, the research team required a pressure of merely 1 GPa at 1300 °C.

How are pallasites formed?

Until recently, pallasites were believed to form at the boundary between the metallic core and the rocky mantle of asteroids. According to an alternative scenario, pallasites form closer to the surface after the collision with another celestial body. During the impact molten iron from the core of the impactor mingles with the olivine-rich mantle of the parent body.

The experiments carried out have now confirmed this impact hypothesis. Another prerequisite for the formation of pallasites is that the iron core and rocky mantle of the asteroid have partially separated beforehand.

All this happened shortly after their formation about 4.5 billion years ago. During this phase, the asteroids heated up until the denser metallic components melted and sank to the center of the celestial bodies.

The key finding of the study is that both processes – the partial separation of core and mantle, and the subsequent impact of another celestial body – are required for pallasites to form.

Insights into the origins of the solar system

“Generally, meteorites are the oldest directly accessible constituents of our solar system. The age of the solar system and its early history are inferred primarily from the investigation of meteorites,” explains Walte.

“Like many asteroids, the Earth and moon are stratified into multiple layers, consisting of core, mantle and crust,” says Nicolas Walte. “In this way, complex worlds were created through the agglomeration of cosmic debris. In the case of the Earth, this ultimately laid the foundations for the emergence of life."

The high-pressure experiments and the comparison with pallasites highlight significant processes that occurred in the early solar system. The team's experiments provide new insights into the collision and material mixing of two celestial bodies and the subsequent rapid cooling down together. This will be investigated in more detail in future studies.

Additional information:

The research was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Publication:

Two-stage formation of pallasites and the evolution of their parent bodies revealed by deformation experiments

Nicolas P. Walte, Giulio F. D. Solferino, Gregor J. Golabek, Danielle Silva Souza, Audrey Bouvier

Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Vol. 546, 15 September 2020, 116419 – DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2020.116419

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0012821X20303630

High resolution images:

https://mediatum.ub.tum.de/1554164

Contact:

Dr. Nicolas P. Walte

Technical University of Munich

Research Neutron Source Heinz Maier-Leibnitz (FRM II)

SAPHiR instrument

Lichtenbergstr. 1, 85748 Garching, Germany

Tel.: 089 / 289-11772 – E-mail: nicolas.walte@frm2.tum.de

Web: https://mlz-garching.de/saphir/en

The Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Zentrum (MLZ) is a leading centre for cutting-edge rese
arch with neutrons and positrons. Operating as a user facility, the MLZ offers a
 unique suite of high-performance neutron scattering instruments. This cooperati
on involves the Technische Universität München, the Forschungszentrum Jülich and
 the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht. The MLZ is funded by the German Federal Minis
try of Education and Research, together with the Bavarian State Ministry of Educ
ation, Science and the Arts and the partners of the cooperation.

The Technical University of Munich (TUM) is one of Europe’s leading research uni
versities, with around 600 professors, 43,000 students, and 10,000 academic and
non-academic staff. Its focus areas are the engineering sciences, natural scienc
es, life sciences and medicine, combined with economic and social sciences. TUM
acts as an entrepreneurial university that promotes talents and creates value fo
r society. In that it profits from having strong partners in science and industr
y. It is represented worldwide with the TUM Asia campus in Singapore as well as
offices in Beijing, Brussels, Cairo, Mumbai, San Francisco, and São Paulo. Nobel
 Prize winners and inventors such as Rudolf Diesel, Carl von Linde, and Rudolf M
ößbauer have done research at TUM. In 2006, 2012, and 2019 it won recognition as
 a German "Excellence University." In international rankings, TUM regularly plac
es among the best universities in Germany. www.tum.de 

More stories: Technische Universität München
More stories: Technische Universität München