Extraterrestrial iron sulfide is a major mineral reservoir of the cosmochemically and astrobiologically important elements iron and sulfur. Sulfur depletion on asteroids is a long-standing, yet unresolved phenomenon that is of fundamental importance for asteroid evolution and sulfur delivery to the Earth. Understanding the chemistry of such environments requires insight into the behavior of iron sulfides exposed to space. Here we show that troilite (FeS) grains recovered from the regolith of asteroid 25143 Itokawa have lost sulfur during long-term space exposure. We report the wide-spread occurrence of metallic iron whiskers as a decomposition product formed through irradiation of the sulfide by energetic ions of the solar wind. Whisker growth by ion irradiation is a novel and unexpected aspect of space weathering. It implies that sulfur loss occurs rapidly and, furthermore, that ion irradiation plays an important role in the redistribution of sulfur between solids and gas of the interstellar medium.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Physics and Astronomy(all)