Scientists studying a massive meteorite that landed in Somalia in 2020 have discovered that it contains two materials not found on Earth, which could lead to new insights into how asteroids originate and alter as they move through space.
The science and other stuff to know
The study sample was recovered from a 15-ton meteorite found in the town of El Ali, in the Hiiraan region of Somalia. The discovery of the gigantic formation made it the ninth-biggest meteorite ever found on Earth. A small portion of the rock formation weighing about 2.5 ounces (70 grams) was shared with the University of Alberta, Canada, for study and classification, and researchers found that the sample contained two minerals that were not found on Earth.
The two minerals have been named elaliite and elkinstantonite. A university press release explained that elaliite had a clear reference to its place of discovery, while elkinstantonite had been named after Lindy Elkins-Tanton, professor at Arizona State University School of Earth and Space Exploration and principal investigator of NASA’s upcoming Psyche mission.
Chris Herd — professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and curator of the University of Alberta’s Meteorite Collection — worked with scientists from UCLA and the California Institute of Technology, and later with Andrew Locock, head of the University of Alberta’s Electron Microprobe Laboratory, who has remained involved in other new mineral descriptions.
Locock identified at least two new minerals which were identical matches to minerals created synthetically in the lab before. But there is another mineral extracted from the meteor sample that is being studied for identification.
The discovery of new elements is always an interesting occurrence for scientists, for it leads them on an unknown journey of revelations and possibilities. The study of these novel materials frequently helps scientists find unique elements and characteristics of the subject, knowledge that they can utilize to create new or modify current materials for a variety of applications.
The alien material is also a window into what the universe has in store for us and what the material went through before arriving to Earth.
“That’s my expertise — how you tease out the geologic processes and the geologic history of the asteroid this rock was once part of,” said Chris Herd.
Scientists continue to study elaliite and elkinstantonite to understand their unique properties and find ways in which they could be utilized on Earth. “Whenever there’s a new material that’s known, material scientists are interested too because of the potential uses in a wide range of things in society,” Herd added.
Many scientific developments have their roots in chance discoveries, like plastic, the microwave, and even anesthesia. We can only wonder what elaliite and elkinstantonite could come in handy for.