Australasian microtektites: Impactor identification using Cr, Co and Ni ratios

1L. Folco, 2B.P. Glass, 1M. D’Orazio, 3P. Rochette,
Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (in Press) Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2017.11.017]
1Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Università di Pisa, Via S. Maria 53, 56126 Pisa, Italy
2Department of Geosciences, University of Delaware 19716, USA
3CEREGE, Aix-Marseille Université CNRS, France
Copyright Elsevier

Impactor identification is one of the challenges of large-scale impact cratering studies due to the dilution of meteoritic material in impactites (typically < 1 wt%). The nature of the impactor that generated the Australasian tektite/microtektite strewn field, i.e., the largest Cenozoic strewn field (∼15% of the Earth’s surface), the youngest (∼0.78 Myr old) on Earth, and the only one without an associated impact crater so far, is an outstanding issue. We identify a chondritic impactor signature in 77 Australasian microtektites (size range: ∼200 to 700 µm) from within 3000 km from the hypothetical impact location in Indochina (∼17°N, 107°E) based on variations of Cr, Co and Ni interelement ratios in a Co/Ni vs Cr/Ni space (46 microtektites analyzed in this work by Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma -Mass Spectrometry and 31 from literature by means of Instrumental Neutron Activation Analyses with Cr, Co and Ni concentrations up to ∼370, 50 and 680 µg/g, respectively). Despite substantial overlap in Cr/Ni versus Co/Ni composition for several meteorite types with chondritic composition (chondrites and primitive achondrites), regression calculation based on ∼85% of the studied microtektites best fit a mixing line between crustal compositions and an LL chondrite. However, due to some scatter mainly in the Cr versus Ni ratios in the considered dataset, an LL chondrite may not be the best fit to the data amongst impactors of primitive compositions. Eight high Ni/Cr and five low Ni/Cr outlier microtektites (∼15% in total) deviate from the above mixing trend, perhaps resulting from incomplete homogenization of heterogeneous impactor and target precursor materials at the microtektite scale, respectively.

Together with previous evidence from the ∼35 Myr old Popigai impact spherules and the ∼1 Myr old Ivory Coast microtektites, our finding suggests that at least three of the five known Cenozoic distal impact ejecta were generated by the impacts of large stony asteroids of chondritic composition, and possibly of ordinary chondritic composition. The impactor signature found in Australasian microtektites documents mixing of target and impactor melts upon impact cratering. This requires target-impactor mixing in both the two competing microtektite formation models in literature proposed for the Australasian: the impact cratering and low-altitude airburst plume models.

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