Mechanisms of weathering of meteorites recovered from hot and cold deserts and the formation of phyllosilicates
Petrographic, mineralogical and chemical analysis of naturally weathered equilibrated ordinary chondrites collected from ' hot' deserts and Antarctica has revealed striking similarities and also pronounced differences in weathering between the two environments. Terrestrial weathering in all meteorites studied is dominated by oxidation and hydration of Fe,Ni metal, producing Fe-oxides and oxyhydroxides that have partially replaced the metal grains and have also occluded primary intergranular pores to form veins. Troilite weathers readily in ' hot' desert environments but undergoes very little alteration under Antarctic conditions. Most of the primary porosity of ordinary chondrites has been occluded by the time that ∼ 15 to 25% of the initial Fe 0 and Fe 2+ has been oxidised to Fe 3+ in both environments. Results from modelling the volume changes upon alteration of primary minerals to a range of weathering products demonstrates that the primary porosity of most meteorites is sufficient to accommodate weathering products. Dilation of primary pores and brecciation, which has been observed in parts of some meteorites, will only occur if the meteorite is especially metal-rich, or has a low primary porosity. These weathering products are absent from recent falls but have formed in a fall after ∼ 100 yr of museum storage. Cl-bearing akaganéite and hibbingite are common weathering products in Antarctic finds but occur in abundance in only one ' hot' desert meteorite, Daraj 014. The majority of Fe-rich weathering products in meteorites from both environments contain low, but variable concentrations of Si, Mg and Ca. In most meteorites a proportion of these elements are inferred to be present as a very finely crystalline mineral with a ∼ 1.0-nm lattice fringe spacing; where seen within intragranular fractures this mineral has a topotactic relationship with olivine and orthopyroxene. In the heavily-weathered Antarctic finds ALHA 78045 and 77002, Si is concentrated in cronstedtite, a Fe-rich phyllosilicate. An unidentified hydrous Si-Fe-Ni-Mg mineral or gel has also partially replaced taenite in ALHA 78045. In addition to Fe-rich weathering products, ' hot' desert meteorites contain sulphates, Ca-carbonate and silica, whereas such minerals are largely absent from Antarctic finds. The abundance of silicate weathering products in Antarctic meteorites is unexpected and indicates that olivine and pyroxene undergo significant chemical weathering in these environments. As preterrestrial cronstedtite is abundant in CM2 carbonaceous chondrites, the Antarctic environment may be a powerful analog for aqueous alteration in the asteroidal parent bodies of primitive meteorites.