A massive meteorite hides two minerals never before seen on Earth
A giant meteorite discovered in Somalia turned out to be full of surprises. The El Ali meteorite is named after its landing site near the town of El Ali. It weighs 16.5 tons (15 tons) and is one of the largest meteorites ever found. Scientists studying its composition discovered that it hides two new minerals never seen before on Earth.
A research team from the University of Alberta in Canada discovered the minerals while examining a small 2.5-ounce (70-gram) slice of the space rock. The new minerals are named elaliite (for the nearby city of the meteorite) and elkinstantonite in honor of Lindy Elkins-Tantonthe principal investigator of NASA’s upcoming .
“Whenever you find a new mineral, it means that the actual geological conditions, the chemistry of the rock, was different from what was found before,” said geologist Chris Hurdcurator of the University of Alberta A collection of meteorites, in a statement on Monday. “That’s what makes this exciting: In this particular meteorite, you have two formally described minerals that are new to science.”
Hurd enlisted mineralogist Andrew Lowcock to help analyze the meteorite, which is now classified as a type of iron meteorite. Lowcock quickly identified the new minerals by comparing them to similar minerals that the researchers had created synthetically in a laboratory setting.
“It was phenomenal,” Hurd said. “Most of the time, it takes a lot more work to say there’s a new mineral.”
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Herd presented the team’s findings of the Space Exploration Symposium at the university earlier this month. The next step in the research will be to see what the minerals can tell scientists about the formation of the meteorite.
While the El Ali meteorite has only recently come to the attention of the scientific community, it has reportedly been known natives in Somalia who trace its origins back for at least five generations. Only a small part of the meteorite was extracted for study. According to Herd, the research team heard that the main meteorite had been moved to China, where it could be put up for sale.
Scientists are still hoping to get hold of more of the meteorite. They’ve already identified a possible third new mineral, and there may be more surprises lurking in the fallen space rock. The new minerals may be of interest beyond geology and astronomy. “Whenever there’s a new material that’s known,” Hurd said, “materials scientists are also interested because of the potential uses in a wide range of things in society.”