Space weathering of iron sulfides in the lunar surface environment

Toru Matsumoto, Takaaki Noguchi, Yu Tobimatsu, Dennis Harries, Falko Langenhorst, Akira Miyake, Hiroshi Hidaka

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Available online 19 February 2021



• Space weathering alters lunar iron sulfides and produces iron metal whiskers.
• Solar wind and thermal phenomena may cause the alteration of lunar iron sulfides.
• Space weathering may contribute to sulfur isotopic fractionation in lunar soils.
• The alteration of the iron sulfide might be common among airless bodies.”

“Alteration of iron sulfides on the lunar surface by space weathering is poorly understood. We examined space weathering features of iron sulfides in lunar mature soil grains using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). SEM observations reveal that iron sulfides have vesicular textures and iron whiskers on their surfaces. Iron sulfides observed using TEM are troilite and NC-pyrrhotite. The space-weathered rim on the iron sulfides is characterized by crystallographic misorientations and the disappearance of superstructure reflections of troilite in electron diffraction patterns. These crystallographic modifications are probably produced by solar wind irradiation. The rim contains opened vesicles that are aligned along the c-plane of the sulfides, as well as numerous tiny vesicles. The Fe/S ratio at the surface of the rim is higher than in non-altered regions, indicating selective sulfur loss from the surface. Iron whiskers protrude from the space weathered rim and consist of polycrystalline metallic iron. The sulfide rims and the iron whiskers are both coated with vapor-deposited materials rich in O and Si. The combined processes driven by the solar wind irradiation, heating during impact events, solar UV radiation, and the thermal cycling may cause vesicular textures, selective sulfur escape from the iron sulfides, and the formation of the iron whiskers. The rim textures support the notion that the enrichment of heavy sulfur isotopes in mature lunar soils is caused by space weathering of iron sulfides. The space weathered rims on lunar iron sulfides are similar to those observed in regolith samples from asteroid Itokawa. Therefore, alterations of sulfide surface might be common among airless bodies in the solar system.”