Scientists at Princeton University have discovered, in meteorite recovered from a remote region of Russia, a crystal with “forbidden symmetry,” that is, an unusual arrangement of atoms previously thought to be impossible in naturally occurring crystals.
Although scientists are working under the assumption that the quasicrystals are naturally occurring, some alien and UFO enthusiasts have suggested they could be artifacts of alien technology preserved in the meteorite.
The quasicrystal was discovered inside an ancient meteorite that crashed into a remote region of the Koryak Mountains in Chukotka, northeastern Russia, about 15,000 years ago. It was the second quasicrystal ever discovered “in nature” by scientists.
The first quasicrystal was found in a different grain of the same meteorite in 2009.
Scientists announced the discovery this week in a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Quasicrystals differ from normal crystals in the manner in which atoms are arranged. Crystals have atoms packed together closely in simple patterns of symmetry, while quasicrystals have a subtle pattern or complex symmetry that Princeton’s Paul Steinhardt describes as a structure saying, “I am not a crystal, but on the other hand, I am not random either.”
Technically, scientists describe quasicrystals as quasiperiodic, being ordered but not periodic as normal crystals. Although they exhibit a pattern that fills all available space continuously, they lack what scientists and mathematicians term translational symmetry.
An illustration of the difference between crystals and quasicrystals uses the analogy of hexagonal tiles (6-sided) to picture the structure of crystals. Hexagons can be made to fit neatly into each other, compared with pentagons (5-sided) or decagons (10-sided) that do not fit snugly but leave gaps in the structure.
“The difference between crystals and quasicrystals can be visualized by imagining a tiled floor. Tiles that are six-sided hexagons can fit neatly against each other to cover the entire floor. But five-sided pentagons or 10-sided decagons laid next to each will result in gaps between tiles.”
Before quasicrystals were discovered, scientists believed they do not exist in nature because their symmetric structures are too unstable. Steinhardt and his colleagues were, therefore, surprised when they first discovered the crystals with “forbidden symmetry” in 2009 in a meteorite recovered from Chukotka in Russia.
The first quasicrystal discovered had a five-fold symmetry and was called an icosahedrite. The meteorite in which it was found is believed to be 4.57 billion years old, suggesting it was formed at the time of the origin of the solar system.
The newly discovered quasicrystal found in the same meteorite as the first, but in a different grain, has a decagonal (10-sided) structure scientists also thought could not exist in nature. The ten-sided disks are stacked in a column.
The quasicrystal also consists of aluminum, nickel, and iron. This is also very unusual in nature.
But scientists, trying to understand how the quasicrystals found in the Russian meteorite were formed, assumed they were formed by natural processes, having apparently ruled out that they are material artifacts of alien technology.
“We know there was a meteor impact, and that the temperature was around 1000 to 1200 degrees Kelvin [726 to 926 degrees Celsius], and that the pressure was a hundred thousand times greater than atmospheric pressure, but that is not enough to tell us all the details. We’d like to know whether the formation of quasicrystals is rare or is fairly frequent, how it occurs, and whether it could happen in other solar systems.”
However, alien and UFO enthusiasts have pointed out that quasicrystals, being a novel form of matter, could actually be artifacts of alien technology. No one has been able to explain how quasicrystals can be formed by natural processes. On the contrary, in theory, their “forbidden symmetry” makes them impossible to be formed by natural processes. The only other known quasicrystals beside those found in the Chukotka meteorites were synthesized in the laboratory by human scientists.
Being very hard, with low friction and low ability to conduct heat, quasicrystals are very useful products that could find wide application in technology, such as for coating airplanes and stealth fighters (read: alien UFO spacecraft).
Although it remains a mystery how they could be formed by natural processes, the motivation for a technological civilization to synthesize them is obvious. This has led to the suggestion that the quasicrystals discovered in the Russian meteorite samples could be artifacts of alien technology billions of years old.
The artifactual nature of quasicrystals is suggested by the fact, as New Scientist notes, that human art has created patterns of symmetry similar to the order of quasicrystal structure. They were first discovered in laboratory-synthesized material consisting of metallic elements, including aluminum and manganese.
Daniel Shechtman, of the Technion Israel Institute of Technlogy in Haifa, won a Nobel Prize in chemistry for discovery of quasicrystals.
So counterintuitive was the idea of quasicrystals that when Shechtman first discovered them in 1984, he was ridiculed and ostracized by the scientific community as a loony scientist.
Speaking after his work was vindicated, Shechtman recalled how the Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling used to ridicule him. Pauling is quoted as having said,”There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.”
The hostility against Shechtman was such that the head of his research team told him to “go back and read his textbook,” and then later dismissed him from the research team for bringing disgrace to his colleagues.
“For a long time it was me against the world. I was a subject of ridicule and lectures about the basics of crystallography. The leader of the opposition to my findings was the two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, the idol of the American Chemical Society and one of the most famous scientists in the world. For years, ’til his last day, he fought against quasi-periodicity in crystals. He was wrong, and after a while, I enjoyed every moment of this scientific battle, knowing that he was wrong.”
Shechtman’s work was vindicated when other scientists began replicating his results in the laboratory. Although quasicrystals have been created in the laboratory, no one has suggested how they could be formed in nature.
[Images: Scientific Reports]