TWO minerals that have never before been observed on Earth have been uncovered inside a meteorite.
Dubbed El Alie, the 3,000lb space rock was found in Somalia in 2020 and is the ninth-largest meteorite ever discovered.
Scientists unearthed the two new minerals inside a single 2.5-ounce sheet of rock taken from the meteorite.
The two minerals have been named elaliite after the meteor, and elkinstantonite after Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the managing director of the Arizona State University Interplanetary Initiative.
Researchers identified El Ali as an Iron IAB complex meteorite – or a type of space rock made of meteoric iron with specks of silicates.
And it was while looking at the meteorite sample that the scientists noticed the odd-looking minerals.
“In the course of doing the classification — describing this new rock for science — I came across some inclusions, some potential different, interesting minerals inside the meteorite,” Chris Herd a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta, told Global News.
“What we’ve now discovered is there are at least two new minerals in this meteorite from Somalia that have never been discovered before.”
“Most people in my profession will go through their career and not even find one new mineral. Here… we came across two,” Herd added.
The researchers uncovered the minerals by looking at the rock’s chemistry and the ratio of elements that are in there.
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They then compared the minerals with versions that had been previously synthesized in a lab.
“Whenever you find a new mineral, it means that the actual geological conditions, the chemistry of the rock, was different than what’s been found before,” Herd said in a separate statement.
The two minerals were sent to the University of Arizona for official classification, and a third new mineral may be under consideration.
Should the researchers obtain more samples from the meteorite, there’s a possibility that even more minerals might be found, Herd said.
For now, the researchers plan to use the meteorite to help them better understand the formation of asteroids.
“That’s my expertise — how you tease out the geologic processes and the geologic history of the asteroid this rock was once part of,” Herd said.
“I never thought I’d be involved in describing brand new minerals just by virtue of working on a meteorite.”
Elkins-Tanton is also acting as the principal investigator of Nasa’s upcoming Psyche mission, which will investigate space rocks in the asteroid belt.