Unseen mineral found in meteorite from the core of a destroyed planet

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Chemists found in a rare meteorite a mineral that had never been found in nature before. Scientists believe that it was formed in the core of the now destroyed planet.

Space meteorite

The discovery is described in a scientific article published in the journal American Mineralogist by researchers from the United States.

The Wedderburn meteorite was found in 1951 in the vicinity of the city of Wedderburn in Australia. Looking at it, scientists found that in front of them is an extremely rare bird.

The fact is that approximately 90% of known meteorites are chondrites, small fragments of cosmic dust, sintered under the rays of the early Sun. Chondrites appeared even before the formation of asteroids and planets and became the building material for them (and partly – building debris, which now falls from time to time on Earth).

The remaining 10% of the celestial stones are fragments of larger bodies: “germinal planets” (planetesimals) and asteroids. And extremely rarely, scientists come across a fragment of the core of an almost formed planet.

It is such a sample that represents the Wedderburn meteorite. It is not surprising that out of 210 grams of its original mass, only 71 grams are now stored in the museum. Scientists literally dragged everything else into pieces in different laboratories.

In a new study, chemists discovered under the microscope tiny white crystals sandwiched between layers of other substances. The analysis showed that we are talking about a mineral never before encountered in nature. The authors named it edscottite in honor of Edward Scott, a cosmochemist at the University of Hawaii.

The base of adscottite is iron carbide Fe 5 C 2 with a special crystal lattice. However, as is often the case with minerals, part of the atoms of the main substance was replaced by atoms of other elements. In this case, it was nickel and cobalt, so the actual sample formula was written as (Fe 4.73 Ni 0.23 Co 0.04 ) C 2.00.

However, the name “edscottite” is assigned precisely to iron carbide without taking into account random impurities.

Such a chemical compound is known to metallurgists: it is formed at one of the phases of iron smelting. However, a mineral is given its own name only if it is found in nature.

“We found between 500 thousand and 600 thousand minerals in the laboratory, but nature itself made less than six thousand,” Stuart Mills of the Victoria Museums organization, who did not participate in the study, emphasizes in The Age.

According to experts, adscottite formed in the nucleus of a protoplanet (a planet that has not completed its formation). Iron and carbon were there in a molten state, but then fell into a layer where the temperature was lower.

“There was a lot of carbon in this meteorite,” Mills explains. “When it slowly cooled, iron and carbon combined to form this mineral.”

Subsequently, the protoplanet was probably destroyed by a catastrophic collision , which often happened in the turbulent youth of the solar system. The future Wedderburn meteorite circled for several billions of years in space, among other debris, until a random gravitational impact from a body directed it toward the Earth.


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