At least two new minerals not seen on Earth have been identified in a meteorite weighing 14 tonnes found in Somalia two years ago. The minerals were found in a piece of the space rock, which was sent to the University of Alberta, which is believed to have discovered a potential third new mineral. The two newly discovered minerals are named elalitis and elkinstantonite.
The meteorite was named in honor of the city where it was found, which is also the name given to the first mineral. The second was named after Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of an Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University and principal investigator of NASA Psyche’s upcoming mission. Elkins-Tanton plans to send a probe to examine the mineral-rich asteroid for evidence of how the planets of our solar system formed.
Chris Heard, a professor at the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and curator of the University of Alberta’s meteorite collection, said in a statement: “Whenever you find a new mineral, it means that the true geological conditions, the chemistry of the rocks, is different from what was found earlier. That’s what makes this exciting: in this particular meteorite, you have two officially described minerals that are new to science.”
Heard is also optimistic that more new minerals could be discovered if researchers take more samples from the meteorite. The meteorite landed outside the city and was first discovered by camel livestock that experts warned. The space rock is about twice as dense as a regular rock on Earth and is so magnetic – something like this has not been observed on our planet.
While Heard analyzed the meteorite to classify it, he saw something that got his attention. “The first day I did some analysis. There were at least two new minerals there,” Heard says. “That was phenomenal. Most of the time it takes a lot more work than that to say there is a new mineral.”
Rapid identification was possible because the two minerals were synthetically created earlier by French researchers in the 1980s. Heard notes that “it cannot be called a mineral until it is found in nature”. Researchers continue to examine minerals to determine what they can tell us about the conditions in the meteorite when it formed.
While the meteorite’s future remains uncertain, Heard said investigators received news that it appeared to have been moved to China in search of a potential buyer. It remains to be seen whether additional samples will be available for scientific purposes.