(CNN) – Scientists have identified two minerals never before seen on Earth in a 15.2-metric-ton meteorite.
The minerals were found in a 70-gram piece of meteorite, which was discovered in Somalia in 2020 and is the ninth largest meteorite ever found, according to press release from the University of Alberta.
Chris Hurd, curator of the university’s meteorite collection, received samples of the space rock so he could classify them. As he examined it, something unusual caught his eye: some parts of the specimen were not identifiable under a microscope.
So, he decided to seek the advice of Andrew Lowcock, head of the university’s Electron Microprobe Laboratory, who has experience describing new minerals.
“The first day he did some analyses, he said, ‘You have at least two new minerals in there,'” Hurd, a professor in the university’s department of atmospheric and Earth sciences, said in a statement.
“That was extraordinary. Most of the time, it takes a lot of work to say there is new metal.”
The mineral’s name “elaliite” comes from the space object itself, the “El Ali” meteorite because it was found near the city of Al-Ali in central Somalia.
Herd named the second mineral “Elkinstonite” after Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University. Elkins-Tanton is also Regent Professor in the university’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and Principal Investigator at the University of Michigan psychological task From NASA, a journey to a mineral-rich asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter, according to the space agency.
“Linde has done a lot of work on how planetary cores form, how iron and nickel cores form, and our closest isotope is iron meteorites,” Hurd said. “It makes sense to name a mineral after him and thus recognize his contributions to science.”
The International Mineralogical Association’s approval of the two new minerals in November of this year “suggests that the work is strong,” said Oliver Schooner, a mineralogist and research professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“Any time you find a new mineral, it means that the actual geological conditions, the chemistry of the rock, were different than what was found before,” Hurd said. “Here’s what makes this exciting: In this particular meteorite there are two minerals that are officially described and are new to science.”
Role of minerals created in the laboratory in discovery
Lowcock’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 a University of Alberta statement.
“Materials scientists do this all the time,” said Alan Rubin, a meteorite researcher and former associate professor and research geochemist in the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences at UCLA. “They might make new compounds, some just to see what is physically possible for research purposes, and others…will say, ‘We’re looking for a compound that has certain properties for some practical or commercial application, such as conductivity, high voltage, or a high melting temperature.'”
“It is serendipitous that a researcher finds a mineral in a previously unknown meteorite or terrestrial rock, and then often that same compound has been previously created by materials scientists.”
Schöner said both of the new minerals are iron phosphates. Phosphate is a salt or ester of phosphoric acid.
“The phosphates found in iron meteorites are by-products: they are formed through the oxidation of phosphides … which are rare primary components of iron meteorites,” he explained via email. Therefore, 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 know many of these phosphate meteorites formed in space. Either way, from It is likely that water was the reactant that caused the oxidation.”
The findings were presented in November at the University of Alberta Symposium on Space Exploration. Rubin said the discoveries “broaden our perspective on what natural materials can be found and formed in the solar system.”
The meteorite of God from which the minerals came, Hurd said, appears to have been shipped to China looking for a buyer.
Meanwhile, researchers are still analyzing minerals, and possibly a third party, to see what conditions the meteorite was in when the space rock was formed. He added that the newly discovered minerals could have exciting implications for the future.
“Any time a new material is known, materials scientists are also interested because of its potential uses in a wide variety of things in society,” Hurd said.
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