Comparison of GEMS in interplanetary dust particles and GEMS‐like objects in a Stardust impact track in aerogel

Hope A. Ishii

Meteoritics & Planetary Science
First published: 5 August 2018


“Comet 81P/Wild 2 dust, the first comet sample of known provenance, was widely expected to resemble anhydrous chondritic porous (CP) interplanetary dust particles (IDPs). GEMS, distinctly characteristic of CP IDPs, have yet to be unambiguously identified in the Stardust mission samples despite claims of likely candidates. One such candidate is Stardust impact track 57 “Febo” in aerogel, which contains fine‐grained objects texturally and compositionally similar to GEMS. Their position adjacent the terminal particle suggests that they may be indigenous, fine‐grained, cometary material, like that in CP IDPs, shielded by the terminal particle from damage during deceleration from hypervelocity. Dark‐field imaging and multidetector energy‐dispersive X‐ray mapping were used to compare GEMS‐like‐objects in the Febo terminal particle with GEMS in an anhydrous, chondritic IDP. GEMS in the IDP are within 3× CI (solar) abundances for major and minor elements. In the Febo GEMS‐like objects, Mg and Ca are systematically and strongly depleted relative to CI; S and Fe are somewhat enriched; and Au, a known aerogel contaminant, is present, consistent with ablation, melting, abrasion, and mixing of the SiOx aerogel with crystalline Fe‐sulfide and minor enstatite, high‐Ni sulfide, and augite identified by elemental mapping in the terminal particle. Thus, GEMS‐like objects in “caches” of fine‐grained debris abutting terminal particles are most likely deceleration debris packed in place during particle transit through the aerogel. “