Petrological evidence for the existence and disruption of a 500 km-sized differentiated planetesimal of enstatite-chondritic parentage

Dennis Harries, Addi Bischoff

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume 548, 15 October 2020, 116506



• A unique enstatite-rich lithology was found among Almahata Sitta meteorite samples.
• Petrology indicates a radius of ∼500 km of the differentiated parent planetesimal.
• Microstructures indicate rapid cooling and suggest a catastrophic disruption.
• This provides empirical insights into lost planetesimals of the inner Solar System.”

“Two samples of a unique achondritic lithology of the Almahata Sitta meteorite (MS-MU-019 and MS-MU-036) contain three coexisting pyroxene species: orthoenstatite, clinoenstatite and augite. The silicate assemblage appears to be the restite after extraction of melts of broadly basaltic and metal-sulfide composition from an enstatite chondrite protolith. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) provides evidence that clinoenstatite within the lithology formed from earlier protoenstatite. The absence of pigeonite despite the successful nucleation of augite and the persistence of orthoenstatite during cooling suggests that the sub-solidus formation of the three coexisting pyroxenes occurred at a pressure of about 0.1 GPa. Rapid cooling at >1 K/h below 1260°C is documented by the cessation of augite equilibration, preservation of the 3-pyroxene assemblage and a low volume fraction of nanoscale orthoenstatite lamellae formed during the transformation of protoenstatite to clinoenstatite. The pressure implies a diameter of roughly 500 km of the differentiated parent body, putting petrological constraints on the size of planetesimals that may have contributed to the accretion of the terrestrial planets including Earth. The high cooling rate indicates a catastrophic disruption of this large planetesimal early in its history. The lithology studied here underlines that planetesimals which existed in the inner Solar System were more diverse than previously thought, and included potentially large differentiated bodies with very FeO-poor, enstatite-dominated mantles. Remains of these bodies are poorly represented in meteorite collections, which points to efficient accretion in the inner Solar System or to removal and little re-distribution of material into the present-day asteroid belt.”