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Scientists have discovered two never-before-seen minerals in a 15.2-metric-ton (33,510-pound) meteorite.
The minerals came from a 70-gram (about 2.5-ounce) meteorite fragment discovered in Somalia in 2020, the ninth largest meteorite ever found. news release 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. As he examined it, something unusual caught his attention – some parts of the specimen were not identified by the microscope. He then sought advice from Andrew Lowcock, head of the university’s Electron Microprobe Laboratory, because Lowcock had experience imaging new minerals.
“The first day he did some analysis, he said, ‘There are at least two new minerals,'” said Herd, a professor in the university’s department of earth and atmospheric sciences.
The name of one mineral – elaliite – comes from the space object itself, called “El Ali” meteorite, because it was found near the city of El Ali in central Somalia.
Herd named the latter elkinstantononite after Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of Arizona State University’s Interplanetary Initiative. Elkins-Tanton is also a regents professor in that university’s School of Earth and Space Studies and a principal investigator for NASA’s future studies. psychic mission — A trip 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 colors of planets form, how these iron nickel colors form, and the closest analog we have is iron meteorites,” Herd said. “It made sense to name a mineral after him and recognize his contributions to science.”
The International Mineralogical Association’s approval of the two new minerals this November “shows that the case is strong,” said Oliver Tschauner, a mineralogist and research professor in the geosciences department 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, was different than what was found before,” Herd said. “That’s what’s exciting about this: In this particular meteorite, you have two formally described minerals that are new to science.”
Lokok’s quick identification was possible because similar minerals had previously been created synthetically, and he was able to match the composition of the newly discovered minerals with their man-made counterparts, according to a University of Alberta publication.
“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 make new compounds — one just for research interest to see what’s physically possible, and others for “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’s no coincidence that a researcher finds a previously unknown mineral in a meteorite or a terrestrial rock, and then often the same compound will be previously created by materials scientists.”
Both new minerals are phosphates of iron, Tschauner said. Phosphate is a salt or ester of phosphoric acid.
“Phosphates in iron meteorites are secondary products: They are formed by the oxidation of phosphides, the rare main components of iron meteorites,” he said. “Thus, the two new phosphates give us information about the oxidation processes occurring in the meteorite material. Whether the oxidation occurred in space or on Earth after the fall remains to be seen, but as far as I know, most of these meteorite phosphates formed in space. In both cases, water is probably the reactant causing the oxidation.
The findings were presented at the University of Alberta Space Research Symposium in November. The revelations “broaden our perspective on natural materials that can be found and formed 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 minerals and potentially a third to learn what conditions were in the meteorite when the space rock formed. And the newly discovered minerals could have interesting implications for the future, he added.
“When there’s a new material that’s known, materials scientists are interested because of the wide variety of potential uses in society,” Herd said.
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