NASA Researchers Find Brand New Mineral in Old Meteorite

Article written: 5 Apr , 2011
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

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It’s a brand new mineral, and it’s from space. Researchers taking a new look at an old meteorite with a high-tech electron microscope have found a new mineral, now called Wassonite, in a space rock found in Anarctica back in 1969, the Yamato 691 enstatite chondrite. The meteorite likely originated from the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter and is about 4.5 billion years old.

“Wassonite is a mineral formed from only two elements, sulfur and titanium, yet it possesses a unique crystal structure that has not been previously observed in nature,” said Keiko Nakamura-Messenger, a NASA scientist who headed the research team.

Wassonite now joins the list of 4,500 official minerals, approved by the International Mineralogical Association. It was named after meteorite researcher John T. Wasson, from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

But there could be more unknown minerals inside the meteorite. The researchers found Wassonite surrounded by additional minerals that have not been seen before, and the team is continuing their investigations.

The amount of Wassonite in the rock is less than one-hundredth the width of a human hair or 50×450 nanometers wide. Without NASA’s transmission electron microscope, which is capable of isolating the Wassonite grains and determining their chemical composition and atomic structure, the mineral would have been impossible to see.

In 1969, members of the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition discovered nine meteorites on the blue ice field of the Yamato Mountains in Antarctica. This was the first significant recovery of Antarctic meteorites and represented samples of several different types. As a result, the United States and Japan conducted systematic follow-up searches for meteorites in Antarctica that recovered more than 40,000 specimens, including extremely rare Martian and lunar meteorites.

“More secrets of the universe can be revealed from these specimens using 21st century nano-technology,” said Nakamura-Messenger.

“Meteorites, and the minerals within them, are windows to the formation of our solar system,” said Lindsay Keller, space scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, who was the principal investigator of the microscope used to analyze the Wassonite crystals. “Through these kinds of studies we can learn about the conditions that existed and the processes that were occurring then.”

For more information see this NASA pdf. which provides more images and details about the Wassonite detection.

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17 Responses

  1. mastercope says

    That’s it, they got it, this is also know as the Di-lithium Crystals that power the engines on Federation Starships now we need to find the source.

  2. drizzt_rocks says

    Interesting pic …

  3. Don Alexander says

    And here I thought it was Wassupholmesnite…

  4. Split_Infinity says

    If we find meteorites from Mars here on Earth then it should be expected to find meteorites from Earth on Mars, possibly containing bacteria with it.

    • Dav_Daddy says

      That is unlikely (although not impossible) due to the fact that the Earth is more massive than Mars. Hence it is far less common for bits of Earth to escape our gravity well and make it to Mars.

      • pahles says

        Not so unlikely if the Giant impact hypothesis is more than a hypothesis…

      • Torbjorn Larsson OM says

        The Giant Impact theory (or in fact most hypervelocity Earth impactors, say from the asteroid belt) goes towards the “not impossible”. A few percent of the crust and impactor involved in such an impact will reach escape velocity in models, what I have read. (I have the ref somewhere, since I’m interested in how much ended up as a historical record on, say, the Moon.)

        This is because the typical hypervelocity impactor will have a velocity differential around Earth orbital velocity of ~ 30 km/s, while escape velocity is ~ 10 km/s. Comets can up the impact velocity even more, falling all the way from the Oort cloud.

        As for the likelihood, the difference in mass and location makes it ~ 20 times more likely for a Mars than an Earth impact, IIRC; maybe I’m confusing that with Earth vs Moon though. (I don’t have that reference, so we have to google it.)

        That bacteria will survive a) launch impact b) cosmic radiation and mineral radioactivity while in deep freeze c) reentry impact d) adaptation to a new and hostile environment is IMO the worst problem.* In the early planetary system d) was less of a problem on Mars for instance. But then early cells were much less likely to have developed variants such as hardiness from thermophily, spores, drought resistance et cetera. How the chances are today, who knows?

        * Apparently there is a fine balance, where you want a rock large enough to shield from cosmic radiation (and surface reentry heat, natch) but small enough that mineral radioactivity isn’t a problem for dormant genetic material during prolonged periods. Dunno if “the sweet spot” is sweet at all.)

      • Run says

        Earth’s more powerful gravity would also ensure it suffered more (and harsher) impacts, would it not? This gives Earth a greater chance of having been inflicted with impacts powerful enough to put Earth material into space.

        However I can’t say whether this is enough to make up for the extra difficulty that material from Earth would have in reaching escape velocity.

      • Torbjorn Larsson OM says

        We seem to be cross posting, but AFAIU it should be Mars that have the more massive influx (from being near Jupiter and the asteroid belt) balancing its smaller gravitational cross section. Launching material isn’t a problem as such, see my previous comment, but granted Mars impacts should launch more escaping mass.

        If there _is_ tens of orders of magnitude difference between impact ratios, then the escape mass ratio of a few orders of magnitude probably doesn’t balance it out. Naively I would think Mars to Earth transit is much more common than Earth to Mars.

  5. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    “Well, let’s see, we have on the show list, “Wassonite”, “Good question”, “I Don’t Know”…

    Costello: That’s what I want to find out.

    Abbott: I say “Wassonite”, “Good question”, “I Don’t Know”…

    Costello: Are you watching?

    Abbott: Yes.

    Costello: You gonna let me watch too?

    Abbott: Yes.

    Costello: And you don’t know the shows’ names?

    Abbott: Well I should.

    Costello: Well then, wa’s on to’nite?

    Abbott: Yes.

  6. Member
    DrNothing says

    Two quick things…
    a) Titanium Sulfide is a synthetic compound humans have already created: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanium%28II%29_sulfide and this is the discovery of the natural version.

    2) @Torbjorn: Three thumbs wa-a-ay up for the Bud and Lue ref and per, “since I’m interested in how much ended up as a historical record on, say, the Moon”, are you referring to some other Giant Earth impact that occurred after the one that is thought to have CREATED the moon?

  7. kepler says

    I’m sorry, but that’s something peeking out of a vagina.

  8. Paul Eaton-Jones says

    Ha ha ha. That’s exactly what I thought but was too shy to say!! [See my comment above] Fnaarf fnaarf.

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