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Scientists announce the discovery of a completely new mineral

By Sophie – on in News

By the roadside, in the old Australian gold rush town of Wedderburn, a nugget was found that is something completely different from the gold that used to be dug up there (and sometimes still is).

In 1951, the Wedderburn meteorite was found just to the northeast of the settlement. It was an unusual fragment of space rock (just 210 g) that dropped from the sky; ever since its discovery, scientists have been analyzing it for the information it can give us about the composition of space, and a new discovery has just been made.

New research with Chi Ma, a mineralogist at Caltech, has undertaken analysis of the Wedderburn meteorite and confirmed that it contains the first naturally occurring example of ‘edscottite,” a rare type of iron carbide mineral that has never been seen in nature before.

Research efforts over the years

Many research teams have undertaken the examination of the unique red and black meteorite since it was first recognized as coming from space, so much so that only around 30% of the original sample is still in one piece, kept in the geological development of Australia’s Museums Victoria.

The rest of the rock has been sliced up and tested to discover the meteorite’s composition. Testing has shown that it contains traces of iron and gold, plus some more rare minerals including troilite, kamacite, schreibersite, and taenite. Edscottite has now joined the roster.

Edscottite’s (named after the University of Hawaii’s expert on meteorites and cosmochemist Edward Scott) presence is important because it’s the first confirmation that this unique atomic form of iron carbide is naturally occurring, and this means that it now gains official recognition from the International Mineralogical Association (IMA).

A mineral created by nature

For many years we’ve known about a man-made version of iron carbide like this, as it appears during iron smelting, but the new findings made by Chi Ma and UCLA geophysicist Alan Rubin mean that it is accepted as an official IMA mineral, something that is rarer than you might imagine.

The senior curator of geosciences at Museums Victoria, Stuart Mills (who wasn’t part of the research) stated that “we have discovered 500,000 to 600,000 minerals in the lab, but fewer than 6000 that nature’s done itself.”

It’s not certain how the meteorite ended up where it did. Australian National University’s planetary scientist Jeffrey Bonning said that it’s possible that the mineral could have been part of the highly pressurized and heated center of an ancient planet. Said planet might have been involved in an apocalyptic collision with an asteroid, moon or planet, which could have smashed the original planet into pieces, leaving fragments drifting across space for many millions of years.

That is, before one just happened to be sucked in by the Earth’s gravitational pull and end up hitting Australia. Luckily for us, it allowed us to extend our comprehension of the way the universe is formed.

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Sophie

Sophie holds a bachelor's degree in biology. She has always been passionate about literature and writing, which is why she likes to write scientific articles for Get-Science whenever she has the opportunity. Although her favourite subject is biology (of course!), she is also interested in astronomy as well as the environment.