Fayalite formation through hydrothermal experiments: Insights into early fluid-assisted aqueous alteration processes on asteroids

E. Dobrică, J. A. Nuth, A. J. Brearley

Version of Record online: 12 January 2022


“In order to understand the effects of the earliest fluid-assisted hydration processes on asteroids, we performed one hydrothermal experiment using three different reactants (FeO-rich amorphous silicates, iron metal powder, and water) at conditions informed by our current state of knowledge of asteroidal alteration. This experiment provides, for the first time, clear evidence that the growth of fayalite can occur during hydrothermal alteration, as described previously in meteorites. These newly formed fayalite crystals are elongated and porous, similar to the ones described in CV3, CK, and ordinary chondrites. The results show that (1) fayalite could form even if chemical equilibrium was not reached in the experiment, at a water to rock mass ratio (0.4 W/R at the beginning of the experiment) higher than the values calculated to be thermodynamically viable at equilibrium (W/R > 0.2); (2) the composition and the texture of the reactants changed during the hydrothermal alteration process, suggesting that the reactants, especially the amorphous silicates, underwent dissolution and reprecipitation; (3) fayalite can form at low temperature (220 °C), which is at the transition between hydrothermal alteration and fluid-assisted metamorphism in chondrites. The results are consistent with previous mineralogical observations and thermodynamic models, which suggest that fayalite crystals are formed on asteroidal parent bodies by the interaction between a hydrothermal fluid and disequilibrium assemblages that compose the pristine materials that condensed in the early solar nebula. This experiment suggests that two variables play a very important role in the formation of fayalite during the hydrothermal growth (W/R mass ratio and the fluid composition). These results are similar to the recent observations of the fine-grained matrix of ordinary chondrites.”