Experimental study of early solar system processes aboard the international space station

  • The formation of terrestrial planets was a complex process which begun in the very early stage of the Solar System in the protoplanetary disk (PPD). Chondrites are fragments of planet precursors, which have never experienced differentiation and can help to reconstruct the first processes leading to planet formation. The main components of chondrites are chondrules, calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (CAIs), amoeboid olivine aggregates (AOAs), metals and fine-grained material. Each of these components formed by a complex mechanism involving aggregation and/or melting. Previous research has already provided an overall view of the formation of these objects, however, there are still open questions regarding the aggregation behavior of particles, the heating mechanism(s) and the thermal history of CAIs, AOAs and chondrules. For instance, the involvement of flash-heating events and electrostatics in the aggregation and melting of these objects has been a keen topic of discussion. The aim of this doctoral thesis was to develop and carry out an experiment to study various early Solar System processes under long-term microgravity. In the project with the acronym EXCISS (Experimental Chondrule Formation aboard the ISS), free-floating, 126(23)µm-sized Mg2SiO4 dust particles were exposed to electric fields and electric discharges. The experimental set-up was installed inside a 10x10x15 cm3-sized container and consisted of an arc generation unit connected to the sample chamber, a camera with an optical system, a power supply unit with lithium-ion batteries and the EXCISS mainboard with a Raspberry Pi Zero and mass storage devices. The sample chamber was manufactured from quartz glass and the experiments were filmed. The complete experiment container was subsequently returned to the Goethe University and the samples were analyzed with scanning electron microscopy, electron backscatter diffraction and synchrotron micro-CT. Video analysis has shown that particles, which were agitated by electric discharges, align in chains within the electric field with their longest axis parallel to the electric field lines. Consequently, electric fields could have influenced the inner structure and porosity of particle aggregates in the PPD. The discharge experiments produced fused aggregates and individual melt spherules. The fused aggregates share many morphological characteristics with natural fluffy-type CAIs and some igneous CAIs found in chondrites. Consequently, CAIs could have formed by the aggregation of particles with various degrees of melting. Further, a small amount of melting could have supplied the required stability for such fractal structures to have survived transportation and aggregation to, and subsequent compaction within, developing planetesimals. Some initial particles were completely melted by the arc discharges and formed melt spherules. The newly formed olivines crystallized with a preferred orientation of the [010] axis perpendicular to the surface of the spherule. Similar preferred orientations have been found in natural chondrules. However, the microstructure differs from the results of previous experiments on Earth, which show, for example, crystal settling on one side of the sample because of the influence of gravity. Furthermore, the melt spherules show evidence for an interaction of the melt with the surrounding hot gas. Therefore, microgravity experiments with more advanced experimental parameters bear great potential for future chondrule formation experiments.

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Author:Tamara Elisabeth Koch
Place of publication:Frankfurt am Main
Referee:Frank E. Brenker, Björn WinklerORCiDGND
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of Publication (online):2022/02/15
Year of first Publication:2021
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Granting Institution:Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
Date of final exam:2022/02/11
Release Date:2022/03/01
Page Number:151
Institutes:Geowissenschaften / Geographie
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 55 Geowissenschaften, Geologie / 550 Geowissenschaften
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht