New Mineral Found in Meteorite is From Solar System’s Beginnings

Article written: 27 Jun , 2012
Updated: 26 Apr , 2016
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Scientists have discovered a new mineral embedded in a meteorite that fell to Earth over 40 years ago, and it could be among the oldest minerals, formed in the early days of our solar system. The mineral is a type of titanium oxide and has been named panguite, after Pan Gu, the giant from ancient Chinese mythology who established the world by separating yin from yang to create the Earth and the sky.

“Panguite is an especially exciting discovery since it is not only a new mineral, but also a material previously unknown to science,” says Chi Ma, from Caltech and author of a new paper detailing the discovery.

The Allende meteorite arrived at Earth in 1969 as an exploding fireball in the skies over Mexico, scattering thousands of pieces of meteorites across the state of Chihuahua. The Allende meteorite is the largest carbonaceous chondrite—a diverse class of primitive meteorites—ever found on our planet and is considered by many the best-studied meteorite in history.

Ma has been leading nanomineralogy investigations of primitive meteorites, which looks at tiny particles of minerals, and has now found nine new minerals, including allendeite, hexamolybdenum, tistarite, kangite and now panguite.

“The intensive studies of objects in this meteorite have had a tremendous influence on current thinking about processes, timing, and chemistry in the primitive solar nebula and small planetary bodies,” said coauthor George Rossman, also from Caltech.

The team said the new mineral is likely among the first solid objects formed in our solar system and could date back to over 4 billion years ago, before the formation of Earth and the other planets.

According to Ma, studies of panguite and other newly discovered refractory minerals are continuing in an effort to learn more about the conditions under which they formed and subsequently evolved. “Such investigations are essential to understand the origins of our solar system,” he said.

The new mineral’s chemical name is Ti4+,Sc,Al,Mg,Zr,Ca, so it contains some unusual elements like zirconium and scandium.

The mineral and the mineral name have been approved by the International Mineralogical Association’s Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification.

Image credit: Chi Ma/Caltech

Source: Caltech

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6 Responses

  1. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Hazen, with his mineral evolution, should be pleased. The early minerals are still a somewhat meager group (IIRC some few tens or so before asteroid formation).

  2. Member
    Aqua4U says

    Tip of the iceberg anyone? Begs the question: What other new elements might be found in meteors and/or on the Moon? or Mars? Which of these new elements will be ‘game changers’ in the realm of materials sciences?

    Now WHERE did I put my economy? I KNOW I left it laying around here somewheres…..

    • Tony Power says

      is it a new element or a new alloy?

    • zkank says

      Moissanite is the only mineral discovered in meteorites that I’m aware of that is making lots of money for people, now that it can be reproduced artificially.

      Anyone wanting to impress the babe without spending the money on a grossly and falsely inflated priced diamond should check out the option. So close to a diamond that jewellers were initially being scammed by them.

      Citation: The use of the term “babe” is used with all due respect 😉

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      I don’t think you mean elements here, they are known and their solar nebula ratio is pretty well known. Most will be easier to extract out of Earth, or even Mars, since geological or biological (Earth) processes has concentrated them in mineral veins or sediments.

      But that brings me over to minerals and Hazen’s theory, that I linked in my previous comment. As you can see there is just so many minerals predicted and observed:

      “The mineralogy of terrestrial planets and moons evolves as a consequence of selective physical, chemical and biological processes. In a stellar nebula prior to planetary accretion, unaltered chondritic material with approximately 60 different refractory minerals represents the starting point of mineral evolution. Subsequent aqueous and thermal alteration of chondrites, asteroidal accretion and differentiation, and the consequent formation of achondrites results in a mineralogical repertoire limited to the approximately 250 minerals now found in unweathered lunar and meteorite samples.

      Following planetary accretion and differentiation, the mineral evolution of a terrestrial planet depends initially on a sequence of geochemical and petrologic processes, which depend principally on the size and volatile content of the body. These processes may include volcanism and degassing, … According to some origin-of-life scenarios, a planet must progress through at least some of these stages of chemical processing as a prerequisite for life.

      Biological processes began to affect Earth’s surface mineralogy by the Paleoarchean (~3.8 Ga), when large-scale surface mineral deposits, including carbonate and banded iron formations, were precipitated under the influences of changing atmospheric and ocean chemistry. The Paleoproterozoic “great oxidation event” (2.2 to 2.0 Ga), when atmospheric oxygen may have risen to >1% of modern levels, and the Neoproterozoic increase in atmospheric oxygen following several major glaciation events, gave rise to multicellular life and skeletal biomineralization and irreversibly transformed Earth’s surface mineralogy.

      Sequential stages of mineral evolution arise from three primary mechanisms: (1) the progressive separation and concentration of the elements from their original relatively uniform distribution in the presolar nebula; (2) the increase in range of intensive variables such as pressure, temperature, and the activities of H2O, CO2 and O2; and (3) the generation of far-from-equilibrium conditions by living systems.”

      Hazen has shown that ~ 2/3 of the ~ 4 500 known minerals on Earth has evolved due to the biosphere interacting with the geosphere. Meaning the most variety of minerals will be seen here, followed by some 1/3 or ~ 1500 of minerals on Mars and ice/lava moons (Europa, Io), some 1/20 or ~ 250 of minerals on asteroids and dry Moon, and some 1/80 or ~ 60 of minerals on chondrites.

      Chondrites are the tip, Earth is the iceberg.

      Btw, note the tie in with abiogenesis. Iron is now known to be important for RNA enzymatic function and likely precipitated its dominance as genetic material, iron was an important redox source before oxygen arose (which is why early life produced BIF, banded iron formation), iron-sulfur was an important biochemically catalytic surface and still is in some enzymes – and iron is promoted during crust formation.

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