Snoring – Scientists have identified two minerals never before seen on Earth in a meteorite weighing 15.2 metric tons (33,510 pounds).
The minerals came from a 70-gram (about 2.5-ounce) piece of meteorite that was found in Somalia in 2020 and is the ninth largest meteorite ever found, according to a news release from the University of Alberta.
Christopher Herd, curator of the university’s meteorite collection, took samples from space so he could fit it. While looking at it, he noticed something unusual – some parts of the sample were not visible through the microscope. He then sought advice from Andrew Locock, of the university’s Electro Microprobe Laboratory, when Locock tried to describe the new minerals.
“On the first day he did some analyses, he said, ‘At least two new minerals there,'” Herd, a professor in the university’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, said in a statement. “That was phenomenal. Most of the time it takes a lot more work than that to call it a new mineral.”
The name of one mineral — elaliite — is derived from the space object itself, which is called the “El Ali” meteorite because it was found near the town of El Ali in central Somalia.
Herd named another one of the Elkistantonites after Lindy Elkins-Tanton, president of Arizona State University’s Interplanetary Initiative. Elkins-Tanton is also a professor in that university’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and the principal investigator of NASA’s upcoming Psyche mission — a journey to a metallo-solar asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, according to the Space Agency.
“Lindy has done a lot of work on how planetary cores form, how nickel iron cores form, and the closest analog we have is iron meteorites,” Herd said. “It made sense to name a mine after her and to recognize her contributions to science.”
The International Mineralogical Association’s approval of two new minerals in November of this year “suggests that the work is robust,” said Oliver Tschauner, a mineralogist and research professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“Whenever you find a new mineral, it means that the actual geological conditions, the chemistry of the rock, are different than what was found before,” Herd said. “This makes it exciting: In this particular meteorite, you have two officially described minerals that are new to science.”
The role of lab-created minerals in discovery
Loock’s quick identification was possible because similar minerals had been created synthetically before, and the combination of newly discovered minerals with man-made rocks could be combined, according to a University of Alberta release.
“Students are making material at this time,” said Alan Rubin, a meteorite researcher and former associate professor and research geochemist in the department of earth, planetary and space sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It is possible to create new compounds – one, just to see what nature is possible as a research interest, and others… say: “We are looking for a compound that has certain properties for some practical or commercial application, such as conductivity or high cast or high burning temperature.
“It is only by chance that a researcher will find a mineral in a meteorite or terrestrial rock that was not previously known, and then very often, the same composition was previously created by material physicists.”
Both minerals are new iron phosphates, Tschauner said. PHOSPHATE A salt or substance of phosphoric acid.
“Phosphates in iron meteorites are secondary products: they form through oxidation phosphides … which are rare in primary iron meteorites,” he said by email. “Where the two new phosphates tell us about the oxidation processes that took place in the meteorite material. It remains to be seen if the oxidation took place in space or on Earth, after the fall, but as far as I know, most of these phosphate meteorites were formed in space. In both cases, water is probably the reaction that caused the oxidation.”
The findings were presented in November at the University of Alberta’s Space Exploration Symposium. The revelations “expand our view of the natural materials that can be found and formed in the solar system,” Rubin said.
It appears that the meteorite minerals came from El Ali, sent to China to look for a buyer, Herd said.
Meanwhile, researchers are still investigating the minerals — and potentially a third — what the conditions were in the meteorite when the space rock was formed. And the newly discovered minerals could have exciting future consequences, he added.
“Whenever a new material is known, materials scientists are very interested because of the potential uses in society for a wide range of things,” Herd said.
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