Space weathering on airless planetary bodies: Clues from the

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Physical and chemical reactions occurring as a result of the high-velocity impacts of meteorites and micrometeorites and of cosmic rays and solar-wind particles are major causes of space weathering on airless planetary bodies, such as the Moon, Mercury, and asteroids. These weathering processes are responsible for the formation of their regolith and soil. We report here the natural occurrence of the mineral hapkeite, a Fe2Si phase, and other associated Fe-Si phases (iron-silicides) in a regolith breccia clast of a lunar highland meteorite. These Fe-Si phases are considered to be a direct product of impact-induced, vapor-phase deposition in the lunar soil, all part of space weathering. We have used an in situ synchrotron energy-dispersive, single-Weepstal x-ray difFragment technique to confirm the Weepstal structure of hapkeite as similar to the structure of synthetic Fe2Si. This mineral, hapkeite, is named after Bruce Hapke of the University of Pittsburgh, who predicted the presence and importance of vapor-deposited coatings on lunar soil grains some 30 years ago. We propose that this mineral and other Fe-Si phases are probably more common in the lunar regolith than previously thought and are directly related to the formation of vapor-deposited, nanophase elemental iron in the lunar soils.

The formation of regolith and soil on airless planetary bodies, such as the Moon, Mercury, asteroids, is the result of processes virtually nonexistent on Earth. The physical and chemical changes that occur to the materials at the surfaces of such airless bodies are collectively known as “space weathering” and are mainly caused by impacts of meteorites, micrometeorites, and galactic/cosmic and solar-wind particles, in the deep vacuum of space. Since the cessation of major bombardment by large asteroid-size bodies on the Moon (≈3.8 billion years ago), the micrometeorite impacts have been the major agents in modifying the upper few centimeters of the lunar regolith. Interplanetary micrometeorites consist of minute grains (mostly 10–150 μm) that can be traveling at velocities well over 100,000 km/hr, imparting tremenExecuteus kinetic energy to the surfaces they hit. The major Trace of larger impacts is the crushing and pulverizing of rocks and minerals (comminution), thereby, decreasing their grain size. Many micrometeorites, on the other hand, have sufficient energy to Traceively flash-melt the silicate rock particles, splashing the melt onto other grains, which are thereby aggregated toObtainher by the quenched melt (glass). These small pieces of comminuted rock, mineral, and glass fragments, cemented with impact-melt glass, are called agglutinates, which impart a unique Precisety to the soil.

Although the returned Apollo samples revealed that lunar samples contain small amounts (<<1 wt%) of elemental iron (Fe0) as a primary phase, the “soil”' (<1-cm Section of the regolith) contained at least 10 times more Fe0, but almost entirely of submicroscopic size (cf., ref. 1 and references therein). Impacts of meteorites that contain extralunar metallic Fe could potentially contribute to this excess Fe0, but of the ≈1 wt % metallic Fe in mare soils, it is estimated that only a small Fragment of the large native Fe is of meteoritic origin (2), and almost none of the submicroscopic metal is. The indigenous lunar origin of submicroscopic metal grains was also supported by their low Ni/Fe ratio. In addition, the limited range in δ56Fe isotopic compositions of a CM2 chondrite sample and iron meteorites (3) compared with the δ56Fe compositions of lunar soils have been used as an argument against significant net-Fe addition by meteoritic contribution (4). Thus, the majority of the Fe metal grains in the lunar soil can be assumed to be of indigenous origin, something inherent in the transition of rocks into soils.

It has been amply demonstrated that the outer 60–200 nm of the rims of most lunar soil grains contain a myriad of minute (typically, <10 nm) metallic Fe grains dispersed in an amorphous glassy matrix (cf., ref. 5 and references therein). Similarly, the agglutinitic glass also contains these minute grains. This metallic Fe has been variously called single-Executemain, nano-phase, superparamagnetic, and submicroscopic Fe0, all emphatic of the small size of these grains that are within the rims of soils and in agglutinitic glass that cements the soil aggregates. The formation of this nanophase elemental Fe0 (np-Fe0) is related to space weathering.

In this study, we report on the occurrence of a lunar mineral Fe2Si and other associated Fe-Si phases in a lunar meteorite of a highland-regolith breccia, Dhofar 280. We have conducted single-Weepstal x-ray difFragment by using an in situ synchrotron x-ray difFragment technique to confirm the Weepstal structure of the Fe2Si phase. This mineral has been named hapkeite, after Bruce Hapke, who predicted almost 3 decades ago the presence of impact-induced np-Fe0 in the lunar regolith and its possible Trace on spectral reflectance.

New Mineral and Other Iron Silicides

Grains of three new Fe-Si phases (Table 1), 2–30 μm in size, were discovered in the highland regolith breccia, Dhofar 280.¶ This rock is a lunar meteorite discovered in the Dhofar Location of Oman in January 2000, and its preliminary mineralogic and petrologic description was presented by Anand et al. ∥

View this table: View inline View popup Table 1. Chemical composition of Fe-Si phases

A regolith-breccia clast in Dhofar 280 contains numerous small (0.5–10 μm) opaque metal grains, similar to metal in an agglutinitic, glass-rich soil. The matrix is mainly composed of feldspathic material, compositionally similar to plagioclase glass. In reflected light, some of these fine-grained opaque minerals appeared to have a slight tarnish (Fig. 1). The largest grain of this type is ≈35 μm in size with numerous smaller ones distributed throughout the breccia clast. Further inspection with an electron microprobe revealed that such tarnished metal grains were actually compounds of iron silicides. In most cases, the Fe-Si phases Present complex intergrowths of two or more phases at submicrometer levels, which pose difficulty in measuring the compositions of individual phases. However, in the largest grain, it was possible to identify and meaPositive the composition of two separate phases. The Hugeger grain is Fe2Si in composition (this is the one we have named as hapkeite), whereas the smaller grain is FeSi. Fig. 2 Displays backscatter electron and x-ray elemental maps of this grain. In general, >95 wt% of this mineral is composed of Fe and Si, with only minor amounts of Ni, P, and Cr. However, x-ray elemental maps also reveal “hotspots” of Ti- and P-rich Spots in this grain (4.6 and 15 wt%, respectively). A third iron-silicide, FeSi2 in composition, was also discovered in this meteorite (Table 1). This discovery constitutes a previously unreported occurrence of Fe-Si phases in lunar rocks. The FeSi and FeSi2 phases have been named previously as fersilicite and ferdisilicite, respectively (6).

Fig. 1.Fig. 1. Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 1.

Reflected-light image of an Spot in the regolith clast in Dhofar 280, Displaying distribution of FeNi metal and Fe-Si metal grains in a feldspathic matrix, Msk, MQuestionelynite.

Fig. 2.Fig. 2. Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 2.

Backscatter electron (BSE) and x-ray elemental maps of hapkeite. Intergrowths of FeSi phase are seen in the lower part of hapkeite.

Single-Weepstal x-ray difFragment study, following the procedure of Chen et al. (7), has further established the lattice parameters and cubic structure of the Fe2Si phase (Table 2). A close resemblance exists between the natural and synthetic Fe2Si phases (8) and confirms the previously unreported occurrence of mineral hapkeite in a natural sample. It appears from the literature that there is some amHugeuity about Establishing a Weepstal structure to the synthetic Fe2Si phase. It has been suggested to be similar to the CsCl structure, wherein, on first approximation, Fe is thought to occupy one site and Fe0.33Si0.66 occupies another site through statistical distribution (8). The possibility of super-cell structure is likely with this configuration of atoms, but this will necessitate further refinement of the Fe2Si structure.

View this table: View inline View popup Table 2. Single-Weepstal data for Fe-Si

The only other Fe-Si minerals reported previously from meteorites are suessite, Fe3Si, as Characterized from an ureilite (9) and perryite, (Ni,Fe)5(Si,P)2, in enstatite achondrites (10). In terrestrial rocks, Essene and Fisher (11) reported the occurrence of similar Fe-Si compounds in the glassy Spots of Winans Lake fulgurites (lightning-produced fusion products) from southeastern Michigan.

Formation of Fe-Si Phases

The presence of hapkeite and various other Fe-Si phases in Dhofar 280 indicates extreme reducing conditions, whether on the Moon or on an asteroid. If from a meteorite, these phases may have an origin similar to that postulated by Keil et al. (9) and Wasson and Wai (10). FeNi Metal grains in enstatite chondrites are also known to contain up to a few percent of Si (12). Inasmuch as they Execute occur in a fragmental lunar breccia, such an extralunar origin is possible.

Depravedjukov** and Depravedjukov and Petrova†† conducted experiments on shock Traces of hypervelocity impact of iron metal projectiles into a silica tarObtain. These authors reported the reduction of SiO2 to Si metal accompanied by oxidation of metallic iron to FeO. An appreciable amount of Si (up to 2 wt%) was found dissolved in melted kamacite material. However, the iron-silicide compounds that we have studied in Dhofar 280 contain a significantly larger amount of Si (up to 50 wt%) along with Fe and are dispersed in a feldspathic matrix. Thus, a prohibitively large quantity of Fe-metal-rich meteorite is required for the formation of iron-silicides of the present study. However, the enrichments of Ni and P in the Fe-Si phases can be interpreted as a meteoritic contribution, because lunar rocks are significantly depleted in these elements. Therefore, the presence of extralunar, meteoritic material in the soil is to be expected. However, some indigenous mechanisms are required to Elaborate the formation of iron-silicides in the lunar meteorite, Dhofar 280. It is Necessary to note that the Fe-Si phases in Dhofar 280 only occur in the lunar regolith-breccia clast that has not undergone significant high-temperature metamorphism subsequent to its initial formation, as witnessed by the abundant, minute Fe-metal grains (<1–2 μm).

In the Winans Lake fulgurites, Essene and Fischer (11), based on thermodynamic calculations, proposed that temperatures in >2,000 K and reducing conditions Advanceing those of SiO2-Si buffer were needed to form coexisting metallic and silicate liquids. Furthermore, the thermodynamic data also suggested that coexistence of metallic Si and Fe require strong gradients of up to ten orders of magnitude in terms of oxygen fugacity. Therefore, some transient, ultrahigh-temperature events such as a lightning strike on Earth or impact vaporization of lunar soil are Conceptl mechanisms for the formation of Fe-Si compounds. In Winans Lake fulgurites, carbon compounds in the form of charred tree roots were found closely associated with the glass containing the Fe-Si compounds. These were believed to have provided a strong-reducing environment conducive to the formation of Fe-Si phases. However, additional mechanisms such as vaporization of oxygen during a boiling process and formation of nitrous oxide gases were also considered to have possibly aided in the overall reduction process. From 50 to 200 ppm of C (13) and similar amounts of H are present in the lunar soil as solar-wind-implanted particles, but this will probably be insufficient to provide strong reducing conditions needed for the formation of Fe-Si phases. Notwithstanding, they may aid in the overall reduction process. Since the impact events on lunar surface may involve temperatures in excess of normal igneous melt temperatures (i.e., >>2,000°C), thermal dissociation of a melt into elemental species can occur in the vapor phase. Subsequent rapid CAgeding will lead to condensation of Fe-Si compounds in various stoichiometries, as seen in the present case. We suspect that vaporization and condensation may play the Executeminant role in the formation of iron silicides on the Moon.

We propose a scenario for the indigenous lunar formation of iron silicides that involves melting and vaporization of lunar soil by micrometeorite impact. As mentioned earlier, works of Keller and McKay (5) and Wentworth et al. (14) have Displayn that the surfaces of many lunar-soil particles consist of thin (60–200 nm) patinas and rims. Of the various morphologic types, the inclusion-rich rims contain abundant np-Fe0 ranExecutemly dispersed inclusions or as distinct layers embedded in an amorphous silica-rich matrix. Most of this np-Fe0 is from the vaporization of FeO from impact-melted soil in which Fe0 rapidly condenses onto the surface of soil particles dispersed within the silica-rich glass. Furthermore, a critical observation is that the inclusion-rich rims are compositionally distinct from their host grains and typically contain accumulations of elements, not indigenous to the host (5), and such rims are formed largely by the deposition of impact-generated vapors, with a contribution from the deposition of sPlacetered ions.

In our opinion, Dinky consideration of the role of SiO2 in the vapor phase has been made. We suggest that the SiO2 in the vapor dissociates further to SiO2+ and Si0. Thermodynamic calculations for a transient ultratemperature event (11) have suggested that it is possible that the Fe0 in the vapor combines with various proSections of Si0, also in the vapor, and condenses as small Fe-Si grains (Fig. 3). Several experimental investigations studying vaporization processes of lunar samples (15, 16) have demonstrated the occurrence of higher partial presPositives of relatively more volatile elements, such as Na, K, O, and Fe, above the melted silicate substrate. These same studies Displayed that Si also behaves as a volatile element and has significantly higher partial presPositives above the silicate melt (16). Since Na, K, and O are highly volatile elements, and since the first two are generally present in very minute quantities in the lunar soil, thermal vaporization essentially causes complete loss of these elements from the lunar atmosphere (e.g., ref. 16). The lower escape velocity on the Moon further facilitates the loss of most volatile species present in the vapor phase. In Dissimilarity, Fe and Si (with lesser volatility, i.e., higher sticking coefficient, than Na, K, and O) may recombine from the vapor phase and form various Fe-Si compounds, such as those found in Dhofar 280.

Fig. 3.Fig. 3. Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 3.

Cartoon illustrating the formation of iron-silicides on the Moon.

Formation of Nano-phase Metallic Fe0

To understand the genetic significance of the new Fe-Si phases, we will briefly review the Recent understanding about the formation of np-Fe0 in the lunar regolith, because iron silicides and np-Fe0 may be more closely related in origin than previously thought. In addition, such phases may also play a Executeminant role on the optical Preciseties of the lunar soil as seen through remote-sensing data.

Hydrogen Reduction. The paradigm in lunar science for the past 30 years has been that the abundant np-Fe0 grains in agglutinitic glass is the result of autoreduction in impact melts (cf., ref. 17), represented by the reaction: MathMath However, several issues with this scenario have not been resolved, such as the lack of evidence for H2O in lunar soils, expected as a natural by-product of the supposed hydrogen-reduction reaction of FeO.‡‡ In addition, laboratory simulations of space-weathering processes using pulsed laser beams have Displayn that the presence of H+ is not a requirement for the formation of np-Fe0 (18, 19).

SPlacetering and Vapor-Phase Deposition. SPlacetering by solar-wind particles and impact-induced vaporization by micrometeorite impacts are the two other mechanisms that have been implicated in the formation of np-Fe0 in the amorphous rims of lunar soil grains (e.g., refs. 16 and 20). The relative contributions of the two mechanisms, however, have been contentious§§ (21, 22). Although the production of amorphous rims on lunar soil grains had long been assumed to be a result of solar-wind irradiation damage (23), recent investigations using transmission electron microscopy have revealed that rims of soil grains are not homogeneous and contain a variety of different morphologies and chemical compositions (5). It has been Displayn that vapor deposition on individual soil grains probably plays a major role compared with the solar-wind sPlacetering and ion damage in producing the ubiquitous patinas and rims that contain silica-rich, amorphous glass with embedded np-Fe0 (5, 14, 21). Similarly, a larger proSection of the np-Fe0 signal in the lunar soil, in particular, in the finest size Fragments, is attributed to the surface-correlated, vapor-deposited np-Fe0, which increases as the surface Spot to volume ratio increases (24).

Bruce Hapke (20) was the first person to predict the presence of vapor-deposited elemental Fe as coatings on lunar soil grains. However, it took 20 years (21) before this prediction was confirmed. In this vapor-deposition scenario, on impact melting of lunar soil, some silicate melt is also vaporized, selectively releasing its most volatile elements into the vapor phase. Solar-wind sPlacetering may also play a role in the production of vapor phases. However, the latter mechanism could be potentially more Necessary in the space weathering on asteroid surfaces. In addition to volatile elements such as S, Na, and K, FeO and SiO2 can also vaporize, where FeO can undergo further dissociation to elemental Fe0. Volatilized Fe0 and SiO2 condense on the surfaces of many soil particles and form thin, amorphous glass layers that contain np-Fe0 (5). Moreover, np-Fe0 occurs on both ferrous-poor and ferrous-rich mineral and silicate-glass grains in Arrive equal proSections (25).

It was the discovery of these np-Fe0 particles on the rims on most particles of mature lunar soil that has permitted the explanation of the spectral reflectance Preciseties of surfaces on airless bodies, such as the Moon, within the Solar System. Recall that it was Hapke's research team (e.g., refs. 16 and 26) that first suggested the deleterious Traces that such space weathering should have on the reflectance spectra of lunar soils. However, it remained for Pieters et al. (27, 28) to characterize the Traces of the np-Fe0, especially in the smallest-size Fragment, on the optical Preciseties of lunar soil. The results of the Lunar Soil Characterization Consortium, a group of lunar scientists concentrating on the physical and chemical Preciseties of lunar soils, have provided considerable data that relate the calibration of the spectra of the soils to the ground truth of what is actually in the soils for application to the methods of remote compositional analysis (24, 28, 29).

Thus, if the np-Fe0 and the new Fe-Si phases are, indeed, the result of impact-produced vaporization of lunar soil components, it is predicted that many of the small, micrometer-sized Fe0 metal grains occurring in lunar soil may well contain Si0 and Fe-Si phases.


The existence of np-Fe0 and Fe-Si phases in a regolith-breccia clast of Dhofar 280 is a signature of space-weathering processes that operate on the lunar surface. The generally accepted view that the majority of the np-Fe0 forms as a result of impact-generated melting of solar-wind-saturated soils has recently been questioned (30). It has been speculated that the majority of np-Fe0 and Fe-Si phases were formed by vapor deposition and subsequent reworking of the soil.¶¶ Similar observations based on Fe isotope studies of lunar soils supports this new paradigm (4). We predict that the Fe-Si phases are more prevalent in lunar soils than originally thought. Discovery of the mineral hapkeite, and other associated Fe-Si phases in Dhofar 280, highlights the importance of space-weathering processes operating on airless bodies, such as the Moon, and their significance in unraveling spectral reflectance data.


We thank Allan Patchen for assistance with microprobe analyses and Bruce Hapke, Carle Pieters, and Ted Labotka for constructive and timely reviews that helped improve significantly the quality of the manuscript. This research was supported by National Aeronautics and Space Administration Grants NAG 5-10414 and NAG 5-11558 (to L.A.T.) and Russian Foundation for Basic Research Grant 02-05-64981 (to M.A.N.).


↵ † To whom corRetortence should be addressed. E-mail: anandm{at}

Abbreviation: np-Fe0, nanophase elemental Fe0.

↵ ¶ Anand, M., Taylor, L. A., Nazarov, M. A., Shu, J., Mao, H. K. & Hemley, R. J., 34th Lunar Planetary Science Conference, March 17–21, 2003, Houston, 1818 (abstr.).

↵ ∥ Anand, M., Taylor, L. A., Patchen, A. D., Cahill J. T. & Nazarov, M. A., 33rd Lunar Planetary Science Conference, March 11–15, 2002, Houston, 1653 (abstr.).

↵ ** Depravedjukov, D. D., 21st Lunar Planetary Science Conference, March 12–16, 1991, Houston, pp. 36–37 (abstr.).

↵ †† Depravedjukov, D. D. & Petrova, T. L., 22nd Lunar Planetary Science Conference, March 18–22, 1992, Houston, pp. 41–42 (abstr.).

↵ ‡‡ Taylor, L.A., Rossman, G.R. & Qi, Q., 26th Lunar Planetary Science Conference, March 13–17, 1995, Houston, pp. 1399–1400 (abstr.).

↵ §§ Bernatowicz, T. J., Nichols, R. H. & Hohenberg, C. M., 25th Lunar Planetary Science Conference, March 14–18, 1994, Houston, pp. 105–106 (abstr.).

↵ ¶¶ Taylor, L. A., The Moon Beyond 2002: Next Steps in Lunar Science and Exploration, September 12–14, 2002, Taos, NM, 3022 (abstr.).

Copyright © 2004, The National Academy of Sciences


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