Unique mineral found inside a meteorite that landed in Australia had NEVER been seen in nature


A unique mineral that had never before been seen in nature had been discovered inside a metallic meteorite found in southern Australia in 1951.

The iron and carbon-rich mineral is also formed during the smelting process which makes steel from iron — but to be recognised officially, minerals must form naturally.

Researchers from California have named the newly-confirmed mineral ‘edscottite’, after the pioneering cosmochemist Edward Scott.

It is thought that the meteorite originally came from a planet that was blasted apart, likely in a collision with another cosmic body.

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A unique mineral that had never before been seen in nature had been discovered inside a metallic meteorite, pictured, found in southern Australia in 1951

A unique mineral that had never before been seen in nature had been discovered inside a metallic meteorite, pictured, found in southern Australia in 1951

HOW DO NEW MINERALS GET RECOGNISED?

The catalogue of officially-recognised minerals is overseen by the International Mineralogical Association, which is in turn formed from 40 national mineral societies.

A mineral has to be found naturally before it can be credited and named.

This is done by the association’s so-called Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification.

The are around over 5,000 officially-recognised mineral species to date.

In contrast, more than 500,000 artificial minerals have been synthesised in the laboratory.

The fist-sized metallic meteorite was named after Wedderburn in Victoria, Australia, where it was discovered 4.5 kilometres north-east of the town in 1951.

Only around a third of the once 7.5 ounce (210-gram) space rock remains intact within the collections of the Museums Victoria — the rest have been sliced up for analysis.

Previous studies had revealed the meteorite contained traces of iron and gold, alongside such rarer minerals as kamacite, schreibersite, taenite, and troilite.

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Studying a slice of the meteorite, mineralogist Chi Ma of the California Institute of Technology and geochemist Alan Rubin of the University of California, Los Angeles found tiny slivers of an iron carbide mineral never before seen in nature.

‘The new mineral is named in honour of Edward (Ed) R. D. Scott, pioneering cosmochemist at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, for his seminal contributions to research on meteorites,’ the researchers wrote in their paper.

Viewed through a scanning electron microscope, edscottite appears as tiny white crystals, existing in thin slivers between the surrounding material.

This crystal shape is unusual compared to the other two carbon-rich minerals —  cohenite and haxonite — that are found in iron-based meteorites. 

This, the researchers believe, is the consequence of the edscottite having formed very quickly after the original matter became supersaturated in carbon.

‘This meteorite had an abundance of carbon in it,’ senior curator of geosciences at Museums Victoria Stuart Mills told The Age.

‘As it slowly cooled down, the iron and carbon came together and formed this mineral,’ he added.

The iron and carbon-rich mineral, edscottite, is also formed during the smelting process which makes steel from iron — but to be recognised officially, minerals must form naturally

The iron and carbon-rich mineral, edscottite, is also formed during the smelting process which makes steel from iron — but to be recognised officially, minerals must form naturally

Viewed through a scanning electron microscope, edscottite appears as tiny white crystals, existing in thin slivers between the surrounding material

Viewed through a scanning electron microscope, edscottite appears as tiny white crystals, existing in thin slivers between the surrounding material

Artificial edscottite has been known for many decades, as the mineral is produced during the iron smelting process that eventually creates steel.

However, a mineral has to be found naturally before it can be official recognised as such by the International Mineralogical Association.

‘We have discovered 500,000 to 600,000 minerals in the lab, but fewer than 6000 that nature’s done itself,’ Dr Mills told The Age.

Previous studies had revealed the meteorite contained traces of iron and gold, alongside such rarer minerals as kamacite, schreibersite, taenite, and troilite

Previous studies had revealed the meteorite contained traces of iron and gold, alongside such rarer minerals as kamacite, schreibersite, taenite, and troilite 

Studying a slice of the meteorite, mineralogist Chi Ma of the California Institute of Technology and geochemist Alan Rubin of the University of California, Los Angeles found tiny slivers of an iron carbide mineral never before seen in nature

Studying a slice of the meteorite, mineralogist Chi Ma of the California Institute of Technology and geochemist Alan Rubin of the University of California, Los Angeles found tiny slivers of an iron carbide mineral never before seen in nature

Planetary scientist Geoffrey Bonning of the Australian National University in Canberra, who was not involved in the present study, told the Age that he believes the Wedderburn meteorite was once part of an ancient planet.

This body, he suggests, ‘got blasted apart’ — likely in some kind of collision with another planet, moon or asteroid. 

The full findings of the study were published in the journal American Mineralogist

The fist-sized metallic meteorite was named after Wedderburn in Victoria, Australia, where it was discovered 4.5 kilometres north-east of the town in 1951

The fist-sized metallic meteorite was named after Wedderburn in Victoria, Australia, where it was discovered 4.5 kilometres north-east of the town in 1951

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF SPACE ROCKS?

An asteroid is a large chunk of rock left over from collisions or the early solar system. Most are located between Mars and Jupiter in the Main Belt.

A comet is a rock covered in ice, methane and other compounds. Their orbits take them much further out of the solar system.

A meteor is what astronomers call a flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns up.

This debris itself is known as a meteoroid. Most are so small they are vapourised in the atmosphere.

If any of this meteoroid makes it to Earth, it is called a meteorite.

Meteors, meteoroids and meteorites normally originate from asteroids and comets.

For example, if Earth passes through the tail of a comet, much of the debris burns up in the atmosphere, forming a meteor shower.

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