Two minerals never seen on Earth before were discovered in a gigantic meteorite weighing 16.5 tons, offering researchers possible clues about how the space rocks are formed.
The new minerals were found in a 2.5-ounce slice of the El Ali meteorite in Somalia, which was discovered in 2020 and is the ninth-largest meteorite ever discovered, the University of Alberta said in a news release. Meteorites are meteors that survive passing through Earth's atmosphere and land on the ground, according to NASA.
Samples of the meteorite were taken and sent to the University of Alberta for classification, where researchers discovered the minerals. Researchers also said they may have identified a third new mineral, though it was still being reviewed. The findings were introduced at the university's Space Exploration Symposium on Nov. 21 and 22.
"Whenever you find a new mineral, it means that the actual geological conditions, the chemistry of the rock, was different than what’s been found before," Chris Herd, curator of the University of Alberta’s Meteorite Collection and professor in Earth and atmospheric sciences, said in a statement. "That’s what makes this exciting: In this particular meteorite you have two officially described minerals that are new to science."
Herd knew there was something unique in the slice when he first observed it, so he called in colleague Andrew Locock, who had been involved in mineral descriptions before, the university said. The minerals had been synthetically made before, so Locock confirmed the new minerals by comparing the compositions of the natural and man-made minerals.
One of the minerals was named elaliite, in reference to the meteorite's name, which comes from the region it was found in Somalia. The other was named elkinstantonite, in honor of Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of Arizona State University's Interplanetary Initiative and principal investigator on NASA's coming Psyche mission, which will attempt to send an orbiter to the metal-rich asteroid in 2023.
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New minerals could have new uses
With the help of researchers at UCLA and the California Institute of Technology, Herd classified the meteorite as an "Iron, IAB complex" meteorite, one of 350 of that type, the university said.
Researchers will conduct further testing on the minerals, hoping it offers insight into the conditions inside the meteorite when it formed, when they are known as meteoroids. If more samples could be taken from the meteorite, there may be other unique minerals to be discovered, which could lead to new uses on our planet, the release says.
"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 said.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New minerals, never seen on Earth before, found in Somalia meteorite