Scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have discovered a new mineral never seen before in nature, which they have baptized as edscottita. The mineral has also been found inside a meteorite, according to the Australian newspaper 'The Age'.
The mineral was discovered after a thorough examination of the Wedderburn meteorite, a piece of metal the size of a lemon that was found on the outskirts of Wedderburn (Australia) in 1951, and now part of the Victoria Museum collection.
Over the years, scientists around the world, with the desire to study the meteorite, have obtained portions of the material, to the point that only 71 grams of the original rock (220 grams) are still preserved inside the museum. A Caltech team managed to get a portion in 2018, to see if it contained rare minerals.
Inside the meteorite, sandwiched between other layers of minerals, the researchers found a thin sliver of a new material that, under the magnifying glass of a microscope, it resembled small white crystals.
And they discovered that the mineral was made of iron and carbon atoms mixed in a certain pattern. This new mineral was called edscottita, in honor of Edward Scott, a pioneer cosmochemist at the University of Hawaii.
"This meteorite had a lot of carbon. And as it cooled slowly, iron and carbon joined and they formed this mineral, "Dr. Stuart Mills, senior curator of geosciences at Victoria Museums, explains to The Age."
While scientists have encountered edscottite before in foundries (one of the phases iron passes through when it melts into steel), they had never seen it originating naturally.
"We have discovered between 500,000 and 600,000 minerals in the laboratory, but less than 6,000 that nature has done for itself, "Mills details.
Origin: the core of another planet
Researchers believe that the mineral, red and black, was probably forged in the molten core of an ancient planet destroyed long ago, which is extremely rare.
According to Geoffrey Bonning, a planetary scientist at the National University of Australia, the solar system began as dust emitted by dead stars long ago. That dust swirled in space until gravity finally began to unite it, slowly. These lumps became increasingly large, first forming grains of sand, then large chunks and then asteroids one kilometer wide. Finally, those asteroids joined together to form planets.
"All the rocks to a certain extent are a bit radioactive," says Bonning. "Then, this planet begins to melt inside." Thus, scientists argue that the hot metal would have dripped into the core of the planet and it was heat and pressure that generated minerals such as Edscottite.
Later, at some point, the planet was destroyed. It was probably hit by another planet, a moon or a large asteroid, Bonning says, adding that many planets were created and destroyed in the first days of the solar system.
And the collision debris spread throughout the solar system, much of which ended up in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The Wedderburn meteor circled there for a few million years, before an accidental collision sent it to Earth.
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