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Scientists have identified two minerals never seen before on Earth in a meteorite weighing 15.2 metric tons (33,510 pounds).
The minerals came from a 70 gram (nearly 2.5 ounce) slice of the meteorite, which was discovered in Somalia in 2020 and is the ninth largest meteorite ever discovered, 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. As he examined it, something unusual caught his eye – parts of the sample were unidentifiable under the 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 very first day he did any analysis, he said, ‘You’ve got at least two new minerals in there,'” said Herd, a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the university, in a press release. “It was phenomenal. Most of the time it takes a lot more work than that to tell there is 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 second elkinstantonite after Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University. Elkins-Tanton is also regent professor at that university’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and principal investigator of NASA’s upcoming Psyche mission – a journey to a metal-rich asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter, according to the report. space agency.
“Lindy has done a lot of work on how planetary cores form, how these iron-nickel cores form, and the closest analog we have are 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 in November this year “indicates that the work is robust,” said Oliver Tschauner, mineralogist and research professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. .
“Any time you find a new mineral, it means the actual geological conditions, the rock chemistry, were different from what’s been found before,” Herd said. “That’s what makes it 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 been synthetically created 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.
“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 at California. Los Angeles. “They may create new compounds – one, just to see what’s physically possible just as research interest, and others…will say, ‘We’re looking for a compound that has certain properties for practical or commercial application, like conductivity or high stress or high melting temperature.
“It’s just fortuitous that a researcher finds a mineral in a meteorite or earth rock that was not known before, and very often that same compound will have been created before by materials scientists.”
Both new minerals are iron phosphates, Tschauner said. A phosphate is a salt or an ester of a phosphoric acid.
“The phosphates in iron meteorites are secondary products: they are formed by oxidation of phosphides…which are rare primary components of iron meteorites,” he said by 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 meteorite phosphates formed in space, in either case water is probably the reactant that caused the oxidation.
The results were presented in November at the University of Alberta’s Space Exploration Symposium. The revelations “broaden our perspective on natural materials that can be found and can be formed in the solar system,” Rubin said.
The El Ali meteorite where the ores originated 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 one – to find out what the conditions were in 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 the potential uses in a wide range of things in society,” Herd said.