2 never-before-seen minerals found in a huge asteroid that fell to Earth

2 never-before-seen minerals found in a huge asteroid that fell to Earth

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Scientists have identified two minerals never seen on Earth in a 15.2-metric-ton (33,510-pound) meteorite.

The minerals came from a 70-gram (about 2.5-ounce) portion of the meteorite, which was discovered in Somalia in 2020 and is the ninth largest meteorite ever found, according to a news release from the University of Alberta.

Chris Herd, curator of the university’s meteorite collection, received samples of the space rock so he could classify it. As he was examining it, something unusual caught his eye: some parts of the sample were not identifiable under a microscope. He then sought advice from Andrew Locock, head of the university’s Electron Microprobe Laboratory, as Locock has experience in describing new minerals.

“The first day he did some analysis, he said, ‘You have at least two new minerals,'” 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 say there’s a new mineral.”

The name of a mineral – elaliite – is derived from the space object itself, which is called the “El Ali” meteorite as it was found near the city of El Ali in central Somalia.

Herd named the second elkinstantonite after Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University. Elkins-Tanton is also a Regents’ Professor at that university’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and the principal investigator for the upcoming NASA project. psyche mission – a trip to a metal-rich asteroid that orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter, according to the space agency.

“Lindy has done a lot of work on how the cores of planets form, how these iron-nickel cores form, and the closest analog we have is iron meteorites,” Herd said. “It made sense to name a mineral and recognize its contributions to science.”

The International Mineralogical Association’s approval of the two new minerals in November of this year “signals that the work is robust,” said Oliver Tschauner, a mineralogist and research professor in the geoscience department at the University of Nevada, Las vegas

“Whenever you find a new mineral, it means that the actual geologic conditions, the chemistry of the rock, were different than what’s been found before,” Herd said. “That’s what makes this exciting: In this particular meteorite you have two officially described minerals that are new to science.”

Locock’s quick identification was possible because similar minerals had been created synthetically before, and he was able to match the composition of the newly discovered minerals to their man-made counterparts, according to the University of Alberta statement.

“Materials scientists do it all the time,” said Alan Rubin, a meteorite researcher and former assistant professor and research geochemist in the Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. “They can create new compounds: one, just to see what’s physically possible just as a research interest, and others … they’ll say, ‘We’re looking for a compound that has certain properties for some practical or commercial application, like conductivity or high voltage. or high melting temperature.

“It is by chance that a researcher finds a mineral in a meteorite or a terrestrial rock that has not been known before, and very often that same compound will have been previously created by materials scientists.”

The two new minerals are iron phosphates, Tschauner said. A phosphate is a salt or ester of phosphoric acid.

“Phosphates in iron meteorites are secondary products: they are formed by the oxidation of phosphides … which are rare primary components of iron meteorites,” he said by email. “So the two new phosphates tell us about the oxidation processes that occurred in the meteorite material. It remains to be seen whether the oxidation occurred in space or on Earth, after the fall, but as far as I I know, many of these meteorite phosphates formed in space. In any case, water is probably the reagent that caused the oxidation.”

The findings were presented in November at the University of Alberta Space Exploration Symposium. The revelations “broaden our perspective on the naturally occurring materials that can be found and can form in the solar system,” Rubin said.

The El Ali meteorite from which the minerals came appears to have been sent to China in search of a buyer, Herd said.

Meanwhile, researchers are still analyzing the minerals, and potentially a third, to find out what the conditions were like in the meteorite when the space rock formed. And the newly discovered minerals could have exciting implications for the future, he added.

“Whenever a new material is known, materials scientists are also interested in the potential uses in a wide range of things in society,” Herd said.

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