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

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

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

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Scientists have identified two minerals never before seen on Earth in a meteorite weighing 15.2 tons (33,510 pounds).

The minerals came from a 70-gram (nearly 2.5-ounce) piece of the meteorite, which was discovered in Somalia in 2020 and is the ninth-largest meteorite ever found, according to a press 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. While examining it, something unusual caught his eye: some parts of the sample were unidentifiable through a microscope. He then sought advice from Andrew Locock, head of the university’s Electron Microprobe Laboratory, as Locock has experience describing new minerals.

“The very first day he did some analysis, he said, ‘You’ve got 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. Usually it takes a lot more work than that to say there’s a new mineral.

The name of one mineral – elaliite – is derived from the space object itself, dubbed the “El Ali” meteorite because it was found near the town of El Ali in central Somalia.

Herd named the second elk instantonite after Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of Arizona State University’s Interplanetary Initiative. Elkins-Tanton is also a regent professor in that university’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and the principal investigator of NASA’s forthcoming Psyche mission — a trip to a metal-rich asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter, the space agency said.

“Lindy has done a lot of work on how the nuclei of planets are formed, how these iron-nickel nuclei are formed, and the closest analogue we have is iron meteorites,” Herd said. “It made sense to name a mineral after her and recognize her contributions to science.”

The International Mineralogical Association’s approval of the two new minerals in November this year “indicates 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.

“Anytime you find a new mineral, it means the actual geological conditions, the chemistry of the rock, were different from 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 rapid identification was possible because similar minerals had previously been synthetically created, and he was able to match the composition of the newly discovered minerals with their man-made counterparts, according to the University of Alberta publication.

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

“It’s just a coincidence that a researcher finds a mineral in a meteorite or terrestrial rock that hadn’t been known before, and very often that same compound will have been made before by materials scientists.”

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

“Phosphates in iron meteorites are secondary products: they are formed by oxidation of phosphides … which are rare primary components of iron meteorites,” he said via email. “Therefore, the two new phosphates tell us about oxidation processes that took place 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 know many of these meteorite phosphates formed in the space. In both cases, water is likely the reactant that caused the oxidation.”

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

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

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

“Whenever a new material is known, materials scientists are also interested because of its possible applications in a wide variety of things in society,” Herd said.

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