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(STFC DTP) Investigating the water and volatile inventory of unequilibrated ordinary chrondrites

Project Description


One of the vital ingredients that allowed the emergence of life on the Earth is liquid water. Therefore,understanding the origin(s) of Solar System water, together with other volatile species, is of primaryimportance for the study of life in the universe. Water is ubiquitous in the Solar System, and is present inmost of the planets and their satellites, as well as asteroids and comets. It is believed that inner SolarSystem objects such as the terrestrial planets largely accreted dry and received their water and volatilecargo at the end of their accretion, through addition of asteroidal and cometary material. The volatile-richcarbonaceous chondrite (CC) meteorites are thought to constitute some of the most primitive SolarSystem objects, and have, therefore, been the focus of most of the studies on water in the early SolarSystem (e.g. Robert 2006). On the other hand, the volatile inventory of ordinary chondrite (OC) meteorites hasreceived much less attention, despite the fact that these meteorites, which represent the large majority ofsamples in our meteorite collections, probably sample asteroid-types that comprise the majority of theinner asteroid belt. Without knowing the volatile contents of OCs, we are trying to assess what types ofmaterials could have delivered water and volatiles to the inner Solar System without a complete inventoryof what was there in the first place. The goal of this project is to fill this gap in our knowledge byconstraining the volatile budget of unequilibrated ordinary chondrites.

Project summary

This project will investigate the water and volatile inventory of carefully selected unequilibrated ordinary chondrites using a combination of petrological, geochemical and spectroscopic techniques. About 20-30 samples of type 3 H, L and LL chondrites have already been obtained from various curation facilities and are available for study. These include samples known to contain phyllosilicates (hydrated silicate minerals) in their main components, chondrules and fine-grained matrix, such as Semarkona, Bishunpur, Krymka and Chainpur (Alexander et al. 1989, Grossman et al. 2000, Menzies et al. 2005, Lewis and Jones 2018). The mineralogy of the samples will be examined using XRD analysis, infrared spectroscopy and electron beam techniques. In addition, we will investigate the abundance and isotopic composition of water and other volatile species (e.g., N, S, and Cl) in selected samples using transmission infrared spectroscopy and secondary ion mass spectrometry. This original dataset obtained on water and volatiles in ordinary chondrite meteorites will fill an important knowledge gap, which will eventually permit testing of our existing models for the origin and processing of water and volatiles in the early Solar System. This project will suit students with a background in Earth and/or Planetary Sciences, and will provide excellent training and advanced knowledge appropriate for further academic research in isotope geochemistry and planetary science. Students with a background in Physics and/or Chemistry who can demonstrate knowledge and interest in meteorite research will also be considered.

The project will utilise a broad range of analytical facilities such as the scanning electron microscope and electron probe microanalysis instruments in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences in Manchester, the NanoSIMS ion probe hosted in the School of Materials in Manchester, and XRD and electron beam instruments at the Natural History Museum in London. The student will thus be given extensive training in a wide range of state-of-the-art petrological, geochemical and spectroscopic techniques and their application to planetary materials.


Robert F. (2006) Meteorites and the Early Solar System II, Univ. Arizona Press, p. 341.
Alexander C.M.O’D., Barber D.J. and Hutchison R. (1989) The microstructure of Semarkona and Bishunpur. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 53, 3045-3057.
Grossman J.N., Alexander C.M.O’D., Wang J. and Brearley A.J. (2000) Bleached chondrules: Evidence for widespread aqueous processes on the parent asteroids of ordinary chondrites. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 35, 467-486.
Menzies O.N., Bland P.A., Berry F.J. and Cressey G. (2005) A Mössbauer spectroscopy and x-ray diffraction study of ordinary chondrites: Quantification of modal mineralogy and implications for redox conditions during metamorphism. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 40, 1023-1042.
Lewis J.A. and Jones R.H. (2018) Primary feldspar in the Semarkona LL3.00 chondrite: Constraints on chondrule formation and secondary alteration. Meteoritics & Planetary Science, doi:10.1111/maps.13194.

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