Evaluating the effects of space weathering on magnetite on airless planetary bodies

L. C. Chaves, M. S. Thompson, M. J. Loeffler, C. A. Dukes, P. S. Szabo, B. H.N. Horgan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Magnetite is a relevant mineral component of asteroids as it has been identified in carbonaceous chondrites, on the surface of asteroid Bennu through remote sensing observations, and in samples returned from asteroid Ryugu. However, the effects of space weathering processes on magnetite have not yet been explored. To investigate how this mineral phase responds to space weathering, here we simulate micrometeoroid bombardment and solar wind irradiation of magnetite using pulsed laser and ion irradiation experiments. We performed X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and visible to near-infrared (VNIR) reflectance spectroscopy analyses to characterize the chemical, microstructural, and spectral response of magnetite to simulated space weathering. In addition, we carried out ion impact simulations using the SDTrimSP software to evaluate the calculated response of magnetite to 1 keV H+ and 4 keV He+ ions and compared these results to our XPS and TEM results. Ion irradiation simulated ∼750 years on the surface of asteroid Bennu, with a solar-wind appropriate total H:He fluence ratio (∼24). Within this time, depletion of O was observed with H+ and He+ ion irradiation, with significantly greater change via protons due to the larger fluence, where preferential sputtering promotes the formation of a metallic iron layer at the magnetite surface. This suggests that solar wind ions act as reducing agents on Fe oxides, with a fraction remaining implanted in these phases. Indeed, we observe elongated defects contained in a crystalline rim created by He+ implanted ions in the TEM. Pulsed laser irradiation, analogous to micrometeoroid impacts, generates melts on the surface of the magnetite grains. The impact melts and H+-generated metallic iron rims both result in increased VNIR spectral reflectance, but lower fluence He+ implantation has no significant spectral effect. These results suggest that space weathered magnetite could contribute to bright regions detected in remote sensing analyses of the Ryugu and Bennu surfaces by the Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx missions and will contribute to the identification and interpretation of space weathered magnetite in returned samples retrieved from both asteroids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115634
StatePublished - Sep 15 2023


  • Asteroids
  • Mineralogy
  • Solar wind
  • Space weathering
  • Spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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