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Water on asteroids in the early Solar System: perspectives from the study of cosmic dust.


Martin D. Suttle
Natural History Museum, London

ABSTRACT: Meteoritics aims to better understand the geology of the early Solar System, through the study of processes such as the formation and evolution of planetesimals or the interaction between gas, dust and ice in the protoplanetary disk. We achieve this through the laboratory analysis of extraterrestrial samples.
I specialise in the study of micrometeorites – tiny grains of cosmic dust, <2mm in diameter, that originate from asteroids and comets. They are a unique resource in planetary science, because they sample a more diverse selection of Solar System small bodies (as compared to larger meteorite collections) and this is due to novel non-gravitational transport mechanisms that operate on dust-sized grains.
Most of the micrometeorites found at the Earth’s surface are fragments of primitive chondritic parent bodies. They therefore pre-date the formation of planets and represent a vast array of disparate geological objects each with complex alteration histories. Through the microanalysis of individual cosmic dust grains, I aim to reconstruct the early geological history of their former parent bodies.
In this talk I will describe several related projects that demonstrate a range of microanalysis techniques used on a unique suite of micrometeorites. These fragments tell a chaotic 4.5-billion-year tale of condensation, accretion, fluid-assisted metamorphism, impact disintegration and flash melting. Yet despite their complicated history, using simple cross-cutting relationships – analogous to the approach of field geologists – we can accurately reconstruct the meandering story of small bodies in our Solar System.
This talk is relevant to those interested in planetary sciences, thermal metamorphism, microanalysis or mineralogy.   

BIO: Martin D. Suttle is a post-doctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum, London, UK, within the Planetary Materials Research Group. He holds a PhD in Meteoritics and Planetary Science from Imperial College London and has previously worked as a research associate at the University of Pisa, Italy. Martin’s work specialises in the microanalysis of extraterrestrial materials and is dedicated to the study of aqueous alteration on asteroids and comets. He aims to answer questions regarding the role of water in the formation and evolution of planets – for example, asking how the abundance and availability of water differed across the protoplanetary disk, what impact water played in the alteration histories of different meteorite groups, and whether Earth’s water is derived from asteroids or comets.