2 never-before-seen minerals found in giant asteroid that crashed to Earth

2 never-before-seen minerals found in giant asteroid that crashed to Earth
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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) slice of the meteorite discovered in Somalia in 2020, the ninth largest meteorite ever found. newsletter from the University of Alberta.

Chris Herd, curator of the university’s meteorite collection, took samples of the space rock so he could classify it. While examining it, something unusual caught his eye – parts of the sample could not be identified with a microscope. He then sought advice from Andrew Locock, head of the university’s Electron Microprobe Laboratory, as Locock had experience in identifying new minerals.

“The first day he did some analysis, he said, ‘You have at least two new minerals in there,'” Herd, a professor in the university’s department of earth and atmospheric sciences, said in a statement. “This was extraordinary. Often it takes much more than that to say it’s a new mineral.”

The name of a mineral – elaliite – derives 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 the latter elkistantonite after Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of Arizona State University’s Interplanetary Initiative. Elkins-Tanton is also a deputy professor at this university’s School of Earth and Space Studies and principal investigator for NASA’s upcoming research. soul mission – Journey to a metal-rich asteroid orbiting 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 analogue we have is iron meteorites,” said Herd. “It made sense to name a mineral after it and to recognize its contributions to science.”

The International Mineralogical Society’s approval of the two new minerals in November of this year “shows that the study is solid,” said Oliver Tschauner, a research professor and mineralogist in the department of geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“Every time you find a new mineral, it means that the actual geological conditions, the chemistry of the rock, are different from those found before,” said Herd. “That’s what makes it exciting: There are two officially identified minerals in this particular meteorite that are new to science.”

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

“Materials scientists do this 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 as a research topic, and others… they’ll say ‘we’re looking for a compound with certain properties for some practical or commercial application, such as conductivity,’ high stress or high melting temperature.

“It’s pure coincidence that a researcher finds a previously unknown mineral in a meteorite or terrestrial rock, and then very often the same compound has been created by materials scientists before.”

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

“The phosphates in iron meteorites are secondary products: They are formed through the oxidation of phosphites, which are rare primary components of iron meteorites,” he said via email. “So, the two new phosphates tell us about the oxidation processes that occurred in the meteorite material. It is not yet known whether the oxidation after the fall occurred in space or on Earth, but as far as I know, most of these meteorite phosphates were formed in space. In both cases, water is likely the cause of the oxidation. It is a reactant.”

The findings were presented at the University of Alberta Space Studies Symposium in November. Rubin said the revelations “expand our view of the natural materials that can be found and formed in the solar system.”

Herd said the El Ali meteorite, from which the minerals came, appeared to have been sent to China to find a buyer.

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

“When a new material is known, materials scientists are also interested because of its potential uses in a wide variety of things in society,” Herd said. Said.

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