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Carbonaceous chondrite meteorites experienced fluid flow within the past million years

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Science  08 Jan 2021:
Vol. 371, Issue 6525, pp. 164-167
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc8116

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Recent fluid flow in ancient meteorites

Carbonaceous chondritic meteorites are thought to be fragments broken off parent bodies that orbit in the outer Solar System, largely unaltered since their formation. These meteorites contain evidence of reactions with liquid water that was thought to have been lost or completely frozen billions of years ago. Turner et al. examined uranium and thorium isotopes in several carbonaceous chondrites, finding nonequilibrium distributions that imply that uranium ions were transported by fluid flow. Because this signature disappears after several half-lives of the radioactive isotopes, the meteorites must have been exposed to liquid within the past million years. The authors suggest that ice may have melted during the impacts that ejected the meteorites from their parent bodies.

Science, this issue p. 164

Abstract

Carbonaceous chondritic meteorites are primordial Solar System materials and a source of water delivery to Earth. Fluid flow on the parent bodies of these meteorites is known to have occurred very early in Solar System history (first <4 million years). We analyze short-lived uranium isotopes in carbonaceous chondrites, finding excesses of 234-uranium over 238-uranium and 238-uranium over 230-thorium. These indicate that the fluid-mobile uranium ion U6+ moved within the past few 100,000 years. In some meteorites, this time scale is less than the cosmic-ray exposure age, which measures when they were ejected from their parent body into space. Fluid flow occurred after melting of ice, potentially by impact heating, solar heating, or atmospheric ablation. We favor the impact heating hypothesis, which implies that the parent bodies still contain ice.

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