Dust from comet Wild 2: Interpreting particle size, shape, structure, and composition from impact features on the Stardust aluminum foils
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Aluminum foils of the Stardust cometary dust collector are peppered with impact features of a wide range of sizes and shapes. By comparison to laboratory shots of known particle dimensions and density, using the same velocity and incidence geometry as the Stardust Wild 2 encounter, we can derive size and mass of the cometary dust grains. Using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of foil samples (both flown on the mission and impacted in the laboratory) we have recognized a range of impact feature shapes from which we interpret particle density and internal structure. We have documented composition of crater residues, including stoichiometric material in 3 of 7 larger craters, by energy dispersive X-ray microanalysis. Wild 2 dust grains include coarse (>10 μm) mafic silicate grains, some dominated by a single mineral species of density around 3–4 g cm−3 (such as olivine). Other grains were porous, low-density aggregates from a few nanometers to 100 μm, with an overall density that may be lower than 1 g cm−3, containing mixtures of silicates and sulfides and possibly both alkali-rich and mafic glass. The mineral assemblage is very similar to the most common species reported from aerogel tracks. In one large aggregate crater, the combined diverse residue composition is similar to CI chondrites. The foils are a unique collecting substrate, revealing that the most abundant Wild 2 dust grains were of sub-micrometer size and of complex internal structure. Impact residues in Stardust foil craters will be a valuable resource for future analyses of cometary dust.
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