Unravelling the secrets of early Solar System processes through laboratory investigations of regolith from a C type asteroid

Lead Research Organisation: The Open University
Department Name: Faculty of Sci, Tech, Eng & Maths (STEM)


One of the biggest challenges with the study of extra-terrestrial samples is that much of the
geological context is missing, whereas on Earth we can have access to field information about
location, orientation, surrounding rocks, etc before even collecting a sample and subsequent
laboratory analyses. On-going space missions (OSIRIS-Rex and Hayabusa2) to primitive C-type
asteroids (likely parent bodies for carbonaceous chondrite meteorites) are scheduled to
return grams to kgs of material in the early 2020s. They will collect samples from a specific
asteroid, but the samples they collect will be grabbed from the well-mixed surface regolith,
which by its very nature contains little geological context.
The carbonaceous chondrites are believed to originate from C-type asteroids, some of which
are clearly lithified regoliths and breccias (e.g. Fig 1). As such they offer a unique opportunity
to understand what can be determined about the parent asteroid from a mixed regolith from
detailed mineralogical, chemical and isotopic investigation.
Primitive asteroids near Earth are usually rubble piles, and therefore the regolith is expected
to be comprised of all the main lithologies present in the parent body, including the most
primitive materials in the inter-clast regions as they are too friable to survive as large clasts.
Therefore, part of the project will be to investigate the nature of the inter-clast materials for
exotic lithologies and components


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