NORTHWEST AFRICA 5492


Chondrite, ungrouped
(type 3, highly-reduced, metal-rich breccia)
'G chondrite'

standby for northwest africa 5492 photo
click on the image for a magnified view

Found 2008
no coordinates reported

A single moderately weathered stone weighing 587 g was found in Algeria and sold in Tucson in January 2009 to M. Farmer and J. Strope. After the stone was cut into thin slices on a wire-saw (A. Karl), leaving ~450 g after accounting for the cutting loss, samples were sent to several investigators (T. Bunch and J. Wittke, NAU; M. Weisberg, KCCU) for study and classification. A preliminary classification was given for NWA 5492 as an anomalous member of the CB chondrite group.

Although textural similarities exist with CH and CB chondrites, several differences distinguish NWA 5492 from them. As is typical for the CB group, NWA 5492 is a breccia composed of type-I chondrules (e.g., PP, PO, BO, CC, RP, POP, Al-rich), lithic clasts (e.g., chondrule-rich, impact-melt, granular fine-grained), FeNi-metal nodules (isolated and in clusters), and abundant sulfides (predominantly troilite, with daubreelite and possible minor alabandite). As with CH chondrites, NWA 5492 lacks matrix material, has depletions in volatile elements, and contains abundant FeNi-metal (22.6 vol%, comparable to CH chondrites). However, whereas CH and CB chondrules are Na-depleted, those in NWA 5492 are Na-rich (Weisberg et al., 2011). In addition, NWA 5492 does not contain the refractory element enrichments seen in CH and CB chondrites; this is consistent with a greater degree of evaporation of refractory material in the inner Solar System (Friend et al., 2011; Weisberg et al., 1996, 2011, 2012). Importantly, the chondrule textural types present in NWA 5492 and in the ungrouped metal-rich chondrite GRO 95551 are significantly different from those of ordinary chondrites (Weisberg et al., 2015). The lack of matrix material in NWA 5492 and GRO 95551 is not well understood, and could result from an entirely different process from the one which produced CH and CB chondrites (i.e., condensation from an impact-generated vapor plume). This feature in NWA 5492 and GRO 95551 could also be attributed to rapid accretion of chondrules in a very high temperature environment, possibly associated with low amounts of ambient dust—conditions which existed in the inner Solar System.

It has been posited that after Jupiter had grown to a massive size (>50 M) by ~4 m.y. at an initial heliocentric distance of ~3 AU, it underwent a chaotic migration in a 3:2 (or 2:1) resonance with Saturn—first inward for ~100,000 years to ~1.5–2.0 AU while clearing the inner disk of planetesimals, an then outward for ~4–5 m.y. years to its current location near 5.2 AU ("Grand Tack" scenario of Walsh et al., 2011; Johnson et al., 2016; Brasser et al., 2016). Planetary modeling employed by Johnson et al. (2016) demonstrates that only during a relatively short timeframe within this migration period will dynamical excitement produce impact velocities that reach levels high enough (>18 [±5] km/s) to vaporize Fe in a planetesimal core. Their model is consistent with the late timing of the vapor plume from which the CB chondrites condensed, and in a similar manner, the NWA 5492 and GRO 95551 meteorites may derive through condensation from an impact-generated vapor plume; however, chondrule ages for these two meteorites have not yet been established. Further details about the "Grand Tack" scenario can be found in the Appendix Part III.

Weisberg et al. (2011, 2012) determined that silicates in NWA 5492 are much more highly reduced than those in E, CH, and CB chondrites, and are primarily composed of nearly pure enstatite (Fs0.3–1.6). The components present in NWA 5492 include (vol%) orthopyroxene (39.9), FeNi-metal (21.6 [primarily low-Ni]), plagioclase feldspar (13.3), forsteritic olivine (5.6 [Fa0.1–0.7]), clinopyroxene (3.7), silica (2.7), sulfides (2.2), and schreibersite (1.6), with the remainder constituting unidentified materials. Some chondrule silicates in NWA 5492 and GRO 95551 contain sub-µm- to µm-sized metal blebs, which also attest to highly reducing conditions during formation (Weiberg et al., 2015). The olivine abundance in NWA 5492 is similar to that of E chondrites (5.9 vol%), but the olivine in NWA 5492 is more highly magnesian (Fa0.10.7) compared to E chondrites or any other metal-rich chondrite group; olivine in GRO 9551 is similarly highly magnesian (ave. Fa1.3).

In comparison to E chondrites and all other chondrite groups, significant differences in elemental ratios and elemental abundances are observed (see diagram). Moreover, the metal in NWA 5492 and GRO 9551 is unlike that in E, CH, and CB chondrites in that it contains very low Si; in that respect it is more similar to H-chondrite metal (Humayun and Weisberg, 2012; Weiberg et al., 2015). Notably, this unique breccia contains no CAIs or AOAs (although rare Al-rich chondrules have been reported by Weisberg et al., 2015), and it contains both a higher abundance of sulfides and a higher Na content in the plagioclase-rich mesostasis than is found in CH or CB chondrites. By comparison, the high abundance and variability of sulfides present in E chondrites is not observed in NWA 5492.

An O-isotopic composition was determined for NWA 5492 (D. Rumble III, CIW), and its position on a three-isotope plot is unique among chondritic meteorites; sample clasts plot within two distinct reservoirs. The main plot (a), based on a sample of smaller-sized reduced chondrules and fragments that likely represent the parent body, lies in an unoccupied region above the TFL just below the OC field and just above the EC field (Δ17O = 0.43; NWA 5492a/CR,CH plot). The other less prevalent O-isotopic plot (b), which is the result of analyzing certain barred chondrule clasts, lies along the CR trend line (Δ17O = -2.28; NWA 5492b/CR,CH plot). This plot (b) might represent impacts of diverse objects possibly related to the CR Clan onto the NWA 5492 parent body. Notably, plot (a) lies near to, or overlaps that determined for chondrules in GRO 95551, which supports the formation of both meteorites in a similar oxygen reservoir (see diagram below). Further O-isotopic analyses of NWA 5492 and GRO 95111 conducted by Weisberg et al. (2015) demonstrates that some overlap exists with O and E chondrites.

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Diagram credit: Weisberg et al., 42nd LPSC, #1198 (2011)

In their study of the fossil meteorite Österplana 065, Schmitz et al. (2016) included oxygen and chromium isotopic data obtained by Sanborn et al. (2015, abstract) for NWA 5492 and its likely genetic relative GRO 95551 in a coupled Δ17O vs. ε54Cr diagram (shown below). It shows that these two metal-rich meteorites plot in a distinct location in isotope space, indicating that they derive from a unique parent body.

Chromium vs. Oxygen Isotope Plot
standby for o-cr diagram
click on image for a magnified view

Diagram credit: Schmitz, B. et al., Nature Communications, vol. 7, p. 4 (2016, open access link)
'A new type of solar-system material recovered from Ordovician marine limestone '
(https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms11851)'

Weisberg et al. (2015) demonstrated that an overlap exists in O-isotope values between chondrules from NWA 5492 and GRO 95551 and those from O, E, and R chondrites, which is indicative of a close relationship among them. They suggest that the chondrules (or their precursor material) which constitute these disparate meteorites likely formed in a similar nebula environment and/or experienced similar petrogenetic processes, and mixing of material between these nebula reservoirs may have occurred. Warren (2011) determined that the isotope signatures of Δ17O, ε54Cr, ε50Ti, and ε62Ni can be utilized to resolve carbonaceous from non-carbonaceous meteorites; the carbonaceous meteorites have positive values for all of these elements, while the non-carbonaceous meteorites have negative values. An example coupled Δ17O vs. 54Cr diagram is shown below to demonstrate the separation between carbonaceous and non-carbonaceous meteorites. It can be seen that the chondrite GRO 5551, and by inference NWA 5492, both plot in the non-carbonaceous field.

standby for carbonaceous vs. non-carbonaceous diagram
Diagram credit: P. Warren, GCA, vol. 75, p. 6916 (2011)
'Stable isotopes and the noncarbonaceous derivation of ureilites, in common with nearly all differentiated planetary materials'
(http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2011.09.011)

The Hf–W age determined for NWA 5492 is very old, falling within 0.7 m.y. of CAI formation, which possibly dates the stage of nebular metal–silicate condensation (Friend et al., 2011). It is proposed that NWA 5492 represents a new chondrite type having close affinities (e.g., chemical, textural, isotopic, metal composition) to GRO 95551. Both meteorites share elemental abundance ratios that may have some relationship to E and H chondrites, but which plot away from known chondrite groups. Evidence favors a nebular condensate origin (vs. impact origin) for the majority of the components in NWA 5492 (Weisberg et al., 2011); it is composed of the same type of volatile-depleted, reduced material that is believed to have accreted to form the primitive Earth (Friend et al., 2011).

By comparison to the highly-reduced, low-FeO, metal-rich group of chondrites, and to the highly-reduced, metal-rich, chondrites designated 'HH chondrites', the latter considered by some to be the parental source of IIE irons (e.g., J. T. Wason, 2017), the silicates in NWA 5492 and GRO 95551 are much more reduced and have a lower Ni content in metal. Such extensive reduction features preclude them from being the precursor material of either of these groups (Humayun and Weisberg, 2012; Weisberg et al., 2015). A range of shock levels (S1 to S3–5) for NWA 5492 has been reported by different investigators utilizing different samples; the observation of S1 might be attributable to post-shock annealing (Weisberg et al., 2015); features in GRO 95551 are consistent with shock stage S3. The CRE age of NWA 5492 is ~8 m.y. (3He, 21Ne, and 38Ar; Friend et al., 2011).

It has been demonstrated that a plot of two meteorites on a coupled Δ17O vs. ε54Cr diagram is one of the best diagnostic tools for determining possible genetic relationships between them (Sanborn et al., 2014). High-precision Cr-isotopic analysis (ε53Cr and ε54Cr) of both NWA 5492 and GRO 95551 were conducted by Sanborn et al. (2015). The results show that NWA 5492 and GRO 95551 are indistinguishable in their Cr-isotopic compositions, consistent with their similarity in O-isotopic compositions previously determined. Furthermore, although the ε54Cr values show that these two meteorites are not associated with any of the carbonaceous chondrite groups, only through the combined Δ17O vs. ε54Cr plot is it evident that NWA 5492 and GRO 95551 are also not genetically related to the E chondrite groups.

Data obtained thus far (e.g., petrologic, isotopic, silicate and metal composition) indicate that NWA 5492 and GRO 95551 derive from a similar unique isotopic reservoir, but further research as well as new recoveries could show that they share a common parent body. It was recommended by Weisberg et al. (2015) that these two meteorites be termed 'G chondrites' after the first described type specimen GRO 95551. The specimen of NWA 5492 shown above is a 2.15 g thin partial slice, ~1 mm in thickness. The small vesicles which are visible in the magnified image are attributed to degassing of hydrated clasts during impacts onto the parent body (Perron et al., 2008). The photos below show the high free metal component in this meteorite specimen and in a full slice curated by the Chicago Field Museum, as well as a close-up image from Michael Farmer.

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Photo source: Chicago Field Museum

standby for northwest africa 5492 photo
Close-up photo courtesy of Michael Farmer—Michael Farmer Meteorites