Scientists Discover a Mineral Never Seen Before

Scientists Discover a Mineral Never Seen Before

Scientists Discover a Mineral Never Seen Before
Image Credits: Daily Express

Researchers from the Museums Victoria have found an unknown natural mineral, called Edscottite, in space rock.

In 1951, a strange-looking space rock fell out of the sky and landed near the Australian gold rush town, Wedderburn. The town was a hotspot for prospectors, but this was much more than a nugget. For decades, scientists have been trying to decipher its secrets and researchers just decoded another one. Scientists analyzed the meteorite and verified the first natural occurrence of what they call ‘Edscottite’. Chi Ma, a mineralogist from Caltech, led the team that found this unknown form of iron-carbide mineral. The team showed that Iron and Carbon combined to form this mineral as the rock cooled down.

What’s in the Rock?

The distinctive black-and-red rock has been examined by numerous research teams since its discovery. Consequently, only about one-third of the original specimen still remains intact. The rest has been taken away in a series of slices, extracted to analyze the composition of this meteorite. Those analyses have revealed traces of Gold and Iron, along with rarer minerals such as Kamacite, Schreibersite, Taenite, and Troilite. With the latest findings, we can now add Edscottite to that list. Nowadays, this rock is held within the geological collection at Museums Victoria in Australia.

How did this Mineral Reach our Earth?

Long ago, an ill-fated, Edscottite-producing planet could have suffered some kind of colossal cosmic collision with another celestial body. As a result of this collision, fragmented chunks of this planet flung across time and space. Eventually, one piece of the Wedderburn meteorite ended up in the asteroid that sits between Jupiter and Mars. Some unknown cosmic event knocked the asteroid out of its orbital path and it came crashing down to Earth. The mineral called “Edscottite” is named after Edward Scott, who is a renowned Cosmochemist from the University of Hawaii.

Recent Discoveries of Minerals in Meteorites

Edscottite is not the only mineral found in meteorites. Over the last few decades, thousands of minerals have been identified in space rocks. Some of them are also found on Earth and many are alien to our planet. Just last year, a gold-colored iron meteorite (Uakitite) was discovered in the Uakit region of Siberia. Ma himself has found a lot of new minerals in recent years. For instance, he found three new minerals in the Khatyrka meteorite (in 2017). Similarly, he has identified 19 new minerals in the Allende meteorite over the past decade.

Iron carbide is not a totally new mineral for us. Its synthetic version has been known for decades. Now, it has joined the list of natural minerals at the International Mineralogical Association (IMA). Stuart Mills, the Senior Curator of Geosciences at Museums Victoria, referred to that by saying,

“We have discovered 500,000 to 600,000 minerals in the lab, but fewer than 6,000 that nature’s done itself.”

History of this Meteorite

Meteorites are not alone in the atmosphere and where there is one there are almost always others of the same composition. Naturally, the museum would love to get its hands on other meteorites with this mineral. However, it seems impossible for now, at least in the near future. Iron meteorites oxidize in wet climates but it is thought that the meteorite struck the Earth around 800 years ago. Researchers believe that other fragments will not be destroyed for another 70 years. The museum is asking some of the laboratories (that have the sample of the meteorite) around the world for the material to investigate it completely. Ma explained the formation of the earliest minerals in the following words:

“The earliest minerals were formed by condensation from solar gases at high temperatures. These refractory minerals were the first solid materials in our solar system. When you examine a meteorite down to micrometers and nanoscales, you can discover clues to what was happening when the rock was formed or when the sample was altered.”

Future Prospects of Mineral Finding

By studying such meteorites, scientists can understand the geology and atmospheres of other planets at the times of their existence.  This can give us some useful insights into the formation of our solar system. Millions of more minerals probably exist out there, just waiting to be uncovered. Or we may get lucky and a few more meteorites end up on our planet. Ma concluded said,

“Every mineral has a voice and its own story to tell. Each new E.T. mineral represents a distinctive formation environment and can provide insights into processes active in the solar nebula, on asteroids, the moon, and Mars.”

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