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Interplanetary dust from the explosive dispersal of hydrated asteroids by impacts


The Earth accretes about 30,000 tons of dust particles per year, with sizes in the range of 20–400 µm (refs 1, 2). Those particles collected at the Earth's surface—termed micrometeorites—are similar in chemistry and mineralogy to hydrated, porous meteorites3,4,5,6,7, but such meteorites comprise only 2.8% of recovered falls8. This large difference in relative abundances has been attributed to ‘filtering’ by the Earth's atmosphere9, that is, the porous meteorites are considered to be so friable that they do not survive the impact with the atmosphere. Here we report shock-recovery experiments on two porous meteorites, one of which is hydrated and the other is anhydrous. The application of shock to the hydrated meteorite reduces it to minute particles and explosive expansion results upon release of the pressure, through a much broader range of pressures than for the anhydrous meteorite. Our results indicate that hydrated asteroids will produce dust particles during collisions at a much higher rate than anhydrous asteroids, which explains the different relative abundances of the hydrated material in micrometeorites and meteorites: the abundances are established before contact with the Earth's atmosphere.

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Figure 1: Back-scattered SEM image of a portion of the Murchison sample shocked at 28 GPa.
Figure 2: Back-scattered SEM images of fractures in a portion of the Murchison sample shocked at 30 GPa.
Figure 3: TEM image of the matrix of Murchison shocked at 30 GPa.
Figure 4: Back-scattered SEM image (at the same magnification as in Fig. 2a) of a portion of the matrix of Allende shocked at 37 GPa.


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We thank T. Hiroi, L. P. Keller and T. Mukai for discussions. We acknowledge support by a Grant-in-Aid from the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, Japan, and a grant from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

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Correspondence to Kazushige Tomeoka.

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Tomeoka, K., Kiriyama, K., Nakamura, K. et al. Interplanetary dust from the explosive dispersal of hydrated asteroids by impacts. Nature 423, 60–62 (2003).

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