Chrome-rich spinels in micrometeorites from modern Antarctic sedimentary deposits

Flore Van Maldeghem, Ryoga Maeda, Bastien Soens, Martin D. Suttle, Lisa Krämer Ruggiu, Carole Cordier, Akira Yamaguchi, Birger Schmitz, Philippe Claeys, Luigi Folco, Steven Goderis

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume 641, 1 September 2024, 118837



  • Oxygen isotope ratios represent a robust tool for the identification of precursor signatures in Cr-spinel, with a ratio of 1 carbonaceous chondritic particles out of 10 micrometeorites.
  • The first Cr-Spinel bearing Antarctic micrometeorite related to R chondrites is identified.
  • Cr-spinel grains may undergo chemical modification at various stages during their evolution.
  • Cr-spinel minerals recovered from sediments represent a valid proxy to trace events related to ordinary chondrite-like materials, but cannot be used as sole indicator to estimate the composition of the general extraterrestrial flux.”

“Each year, approximately 5000 tons of extraterrestrial material reaches the Earth’s surface as micrometeorites, cosmic dust particles ranging from 10 to 2000 μm in size. These micrometeorites, collected from diverse environments, mainly deep-sea sediments, Antarctic ice, snow and loose sediments, and hot deserts, are crucial in understanding our Solar System’s evolution. Chrome-rich spinel (Cr-spinel) minerals have gained attention as proxies for studying the extraterrestrial flux in sedimentary deposits, because these robust minerals occur, in various extraterrestrial materials, with compositions characteristic of their parent bodies. A total of 27 Cr-spinel bearing micrometeorites within the size range of 185–800 μm, were identified from approximately 6000 micrometeorites from the Transantarctic Mountains (n = 23) and the Sør Rondane Mountains (n = 4), in Antarctica, containing Cr-spinel (8–120 μm), were examined in this study for geochemical composition and high-precision oxygen isotope ratios to assess alteration and identify potential parent bodies.

Oxygen isotopes in the micrometeorite groundmass and in Cr-spinel grains reveal a predominance of ordinary chondritic precursors, with only 1 in 10 micrometeorites containing Cr-spinel minerals showing a carbonaceous chondritic signature. This may be further confirmed by an elevated Al content (> 12 wt% Al2O3) in Cr-spinel from specific carbonaceous chondrite types, but a more extensive dataset is required to establish definitive criteria. The first Cr-spinel bearing particle, in an Antarctic micrometeorite, that can be linked to R-chondrites based on oxygen isotopes, has been documented, demonstrating the potential for R-chondrites as a source of chrome-rich spinels. The study also highlights the potential for chemical modifications and alteration processes that Cr-spinel minerals may undergo during their time on the parent body, atmospheric entry, and terrestrial residence.

In the context of the broader micrometeorite flux, the results align with previous findings, showing a consistent contribution of micrometeorites containing Cr-spinel minerals related to ordinary chondrites over the past 2 to 4 million years. This is however a small fraction (∼ 1 %) of the total micrometeorite flux. The study further confirms that Cr-spinel minerals recovered from sedimentary deposits serve as valuable proxies for tracking events related to ordinary chondritic or achondritic materials. However, it is emphasized that Cr-spinel minerals alone cannot serve as exclusive indicators of the overall extraterrestrial flux, especially during periods dominated by carbonaceous chondritic dust in the inner Solar System. To comprehensively understand the complete extraterrestrial flux, additional proxies are needed to trace dust-producing events associated with various Solar System objects. The intricate nature of Cr-spinel compositions, and the potential for alteration processes emphasize the need for further research to refine our understanding of these extraterrestrial markers.”