Structural and spectroscopic changes to natural nontronite induced by experimental impacts between 10 and 40 GPa

Friedlander, L. R., T. D. Glotch, D. L. Bish, M. D. Dyar, T. G. Sharp, E. C. Sklute, and J. R. Michalski (2015)

J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 120, doi:10.1002/2014JE004638.


Many phyllosilicate deposits remotely detected on Mars occur within bombarded terrains. Shock metamorphism from meteor impacts alters mineral structures, producing changed mineral spectra. Thus, impacts have likely affected the spectra of remotely sensed Martian phyllosilicates. We present spectral analysis results for a natural nontronite sample before and after laboratory-generated impacts over five peak pressures between 10 and 40 GPa. We conducted a suite of spectroscopic analyses to characterize the sample’s impact-induced structural and spectral changes. Nontronite becomes increasingly disordered with increasing peak impact pressure. Every infrared spectroscopic technique used showed evidence of structural changes at shock pressures above ~25 GPa. Reflectance spectroscopy in the visible near-infrared region is primarily sensitive to the vibrations of metal–OH and interlayer H2O groups in the nontronite octahedral sheet. Midinfrared (MIR) spectroscopic techniques are sensitive to the vibrations of silicon and oxygen in the nontronite tetrahedral sheet. Because the tetrahedral and octahedral sheets of nontronite deform differently, impact-driven structural deformation may contribute to differences in phyllosilicate detection between remote sensing techniques sensitive to different parts of the nontronite structure. Observed spectroscopic changes also indicated that the sample’s octahedral and tetrahedral sheets were structurally deformed but not completely dehydroxylated. This finding is an important distinction from previous studies of thermally altered phyllosilicates in which dehydroxylation follows dehydration in a stepwise progression preceding structural deformation. Impact alteration may thus complicate mineral-specific identifications based on the location of OH-group bands in remotely detected spectra. This is a key implication for Martian remote sensing arising from our results.