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1969 meteorite yields new primitive mineral

CALTECH (US) — A new mineral—one of the solar system’s oldest—has been discovered in a meteorite that scattered across Chihuahua, Mexico in 1969.

More than 40 years later, the Allende meteorite is still revealing information about the early stages of our solar system’s evolution.

Dubbed panguite, the new titanium oxide is named 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.

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

A paper outlining the discovery and the properties of this new mineral will be published in the July issue of the journal American Mineralogist, and is available online now.

“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, a senior scientist and director of the Geological and Planetary Sciences division’s Analytical Facility at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and corresponding author on the paper.

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.

As a result of an ongoing nanomineralogy investigation of primitive meteorites, which Ma has been leading since 2007, nine new minerals, including panguite, have been found in the Allende meteorite. Some of those new finds include the minerals allendeite, hexamolybdenum, tistarite, and kangite.

“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,” says coauthor George Rossman, professor of mineralogy.

Panguite was observed first under a scanning electron microscope in an ultra-refractory inclusion embedded in the meteorite. Refractory inclusions are among the first solid objects formed in our solar system, dating back to before the formation of Earth and the other planets.

“Refractory” means that these inclusions contain minerals that are stable at high temperatures and in extreme environments, which attests to their likely formation as primitive, high-temperature liquids produced by the solar nebula.

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 says.

Additional authors of the paper contributed from Caltech, the University of Nevada–Las Vegas, and the Argonne National Laboratory. The National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and NASA’s Office of Space Science supported the study.

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