A group of NASA scientists have discovered a new mineral of space origin in one of the most historically significant celestial objects – a meteorite found in Antarctica in 1969.
The new mineral was discovered by NASA scientists inside the meteorite known as Yamato 691, according to NASA’s official report. The meteorite was among the first nine meteorites discovered by the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition in the ice-fields of Antarctica in 1969. The analysis has shown that it is over 4.5 billion years old and originated from an asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.
Latest discoveries by NASA scientists and their co-researchers from Japan and South Korea revealed small inclusions of an unknown mineral in the meteorite specimen. It was discovered surrounded by other materials of unidentified nature that are now being investigated as well.
The newly discovered mineral is made up of sulfur and titanium molecules that form an intricate crystal lattice. The characteristics of the lattice have yet to be defined. The mineral makes up only a tiny fraction of the sample (50 x 450 nanometers, or less than one-hundredth width of human hair). Yet it is an important integral part of its chemical composition.
The finding was named Wassonite in honor of Prof. John Wasson (UCLA) known for his unrivaled achievements in meteorite research. The research team, headed by NASA scientist Keiko Nakamura-Messenger, added the mineral to the list approved by the International Mineralogical association. Wassonite is unlikely to be found on Earth; therefore the discovery is quite outstanding.
Wassonite is probably not the only mineral that for billions of years has remained unknown to scientists. Meteorites from Antarctica hold many mysteries that fascinate researchers worldwide. ‘More secrets of the universe can be revealed from these specimens using 21st century nano-technology,’ said Nakamura-Messenger, once again emphasizing the pivotal role of the nano-technology equipment available at NASA facilities.
All in all the searches in Antarctica resulted in recovering over 40,000 specimens of celestial materials including Martian and Lunar meteorites. The co-discoverer of Wassonite, Lindsay Keller underlined the importance of studying meteorites for further research on formation of our solar system: ‘Through these kinds of studies we can learn about the conditions that existed and the processes that were occurring then’.
Meteorites have been constantly providing geologists with research material. Extreme conditions are created when meteorites pass the Earth’s atmosphere and collide with the surface. This results in the appearance of new chemical elements on the surface of meteorites. Lonsdaleite is one example of such elements. Being almost two times harder than diamonds, it is one of the hardest minerals known to scientists.