The two newly discovered minerals have been named elaliite and elkinstantonite.
A team of researchers has discovered at least two new minerals never seen on Earth in a 15-ton meteorite found in Somalia, the ninth largest ever found.
“Whenever a new mineral is found, it means that the actual geological conditions, the chemistry of the rock, were different from what had been found before,” Chris Herd, a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, says in a statement. and curator of the University of Alberta Meteorite Collection. “That’s what makes this exciting: In this particular meteorite there are two officially described minerals that are new to science.”
The two minerals found come from a single piece of 70 grams that was sent to this university for classification, and there already seems to be a third mineral potential under study. If the researchers were to get more samples from the huge meteorite, there’s a chance they’d find even more, Herd says.
The two newly discovered minerals have been named elaliite and elkinstonite. The first gets its name from the meteorite itself, nicknamed “El Ali” because it was found near the city of El Ali, in the Somali region of Hiiraan. Herd baptized the second mineral with the name of Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of the ASU Interplanetary Initiative, professor at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and principal investigator for NASA’s upcoming Psyche mission.
“Lindy has done a lot of work on how the nuclei of planets form, how these iron and nickel nuclei form, and the closest analogue we have is iron meteorites. So it made sense to name a mineral after him and recognize his contributions to science,” Herd explains.
Working with researchers at UCLA and the California Institute of Technology, Herd classified the El Ali meteorite as an “iron, IAB complex” meteorite, one of more than 350 in that particular category.
As Herd was analyzing the meteorite to classify it, he saw something that caught his attention. He drew on the expertise of Andrew Locock, director of the University of Arizona Electron Microprobe Laboratory, which has been gained in other descriptions of new minerals, such as Heamanite (Ce).
“The first day he did some analysis, he said, ‘You’ve got at least two new minerals in there,'” Herd says. “That was phenomenal. Most of the time it takes a lot more work than that to say there’s a new mineral.”
Locock’s quick identification was possible because the two minerals had been synthetically created earlier, so he was able to match the composition of the newly discovered natural minerals to their man-made counterparts.
Researchers continue to examine the minerals to determine what they can tell us about the conditions of the meteorite when it formed.
While the future of the meteorite remains uncertain, Herd says researchers have received word that it appears to have been flown to China in search of a potential buyer. Whether additional samples will be available for fine scientists remains to be seen.
Herd described the findings at the Space Exploration Symposium 2022 held on November 21-22 at the University of Alberta.