Minerals never seen before on Earth discovered in a huge meteorite

A huge meteorite discovered in Somalia in 2020 has hidden what researchers are calling a “phenomenal” discovery: two new minerals, and potentially a third, never before seen on Earth.

The minerals were discovered from a 70-gram slice of the 15.2-ton “El Ali” meteorite that was known to locals for five to seven generations, but was only officially discovered two years ago. University of Alberta researchers analyzed the slice to find two minerals, one named elaliite after the meteorite and the other named elkinstantonite after Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University and principal investigator of NASA’s Psyche mission.

There’s also the potential for a third newly discovered mineral, the University of Alberta said in a news release, and it’s possible even more will be found.

University of Alberta professor and curator of the meteorite collection Chris Herd contributed to the identification, along with Andrew Locock, head of the university’s Electron Microprobe Laboratory.

“The first day he did some analysis, he said, ‘There are at least two new minerals,'” Herd said in a news release. “It’s been phenomenal. Most of the time it takes a lot more work to say there’s a new mineral.”

And it’s all a happy accident. Herd said in a presentation of the findings at the Space Exploration Symposium last week that he “just happened to stumble upon” the new minerals.

“We didn’t go looking for new minerals, we just happened to find them,” he said.

That easy identification was possible thanks to their artificial versions that matched the compositions. Now, research on these minerals will continue, and with the hope that their discovery will lead to new uses in the scientific and everyday world.

“This is my experience: how you make fun of the geological processes and geological history of the asteroid that this rock was once a part of,” Herd said. “I never thought I’d get involved in describing brand new minerals just by virtue of working on a meteorite.”

However, the work on the meteorite can be reserved for the single acquired sample. Herd said the rest of the meteorite may have been moved to China to be sold, and it’s unclear whether researchers will be able to obtain more samples.

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