Two completely new minerals found in a huge meteorite that fell in Somalia

Two new minerals were found in the meteorite (Chris Herd)

Two were found in a 15-ton meteorite in Somalia, the ninth largest ever found.

Professor Chris Herd, curator of the meteorite collection at the University of Alberta, analyzed a thin slice of the meteorite – e.

He brought the expertise of Andrew Locock, head of the U of A’s electron microprobe laboratory.

“The first day he did some analysis, he said, ‘There are at least two new minerals in there,'” Herd says.

“It was phenomenal. Most of the time it takes a lot more work to say there’s a new mineral.”

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The two minerals found came from a single 70-gram slice that was sent to the University for classification, and there already appears to be a potential third mineral under investigation.

If researchers get more samples from the massive meteorite, there’s a chance even more could be found, Herd notes.

Professor Chris Herd, curator of the meteorite collection at the University of Alberta says:

“Every time you find a new mineral, it means that the actual geological conditions, the chemistry of the rock, were different from what had been found before.”

“That’s what makes it exciting: There are two officially described minerals in this particular meteorite that are new to science.”

The two newly discovered minerals have been named elaliite and elkinstantonite. The first takes its name from the meteorite itself, nicknamed the “El Ali” meteorite because it was found near the city of El Ali, in the Hiiraan region of Somalia.

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Herd named the second mineral after Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of the ASU Interplanetary Initiative, a professor in Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and principal investigator of NASA’s upcoming Psyche mission.

Herd says: “Lindy has done a lot of work on how the cores of planets form, how these iron-nickel cores form, and the closest analog we have are iron meteorites. So it made sense to name a mineral after her and acknowledge her contributions to science.”

Herd classified the El Ali meteorite as an “Iron, IAB complex” meteorite, one of more than 350 in that particular category.

Locock’s rapid identification was possible because the two minerals had been created synthetically previously, so he was able to match the composition of the newly discovered natural minerals with their man-made counterparts.

Researchers are continuing to examine the minerals to determine what they can tell us about the condition of the meteorite when it formed.

“This is my experience teasing the geological processes and geological history of the asteroid that this rock was once a part of,” Herd says.

“I never thought I’d get involved in describing brand new minerals just by virtue of working on a meteorite.”

Herd also notes that any new mineral discovery could yield exciting new uses down the line.

“Whenever there’s a new material known, materials scientists are also interested because of the potential uses in a wide variety of things in society.”

Herd says researchers have received word that the meteorite appears to have been moved to China in search of a potential buyer.

It remains to be seen whether further samples will be available for scientific purposes.

Watch: NASA details meteor strike on Mars

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