Scientists have announced the discovery of a never-before-seen mineral that only exists in a single meteorite found on our planet, reports Live Science.
Dubbed the Uakit meteorite, after the region in Siberia where it came tumbling down in 2016, the space rock was originally found by Russian gold hunters, who initially mistook it for a large gold nugget. As it later turned out, the yellow lump of rock they had stumbled upon was hiding a much more valuable prize — a completely unique mineral that has since been named uakitite.
According to scientists from Novosibirsk State University and the Sobolev Institute of Geology and Mineralogy in Russia, the Uakit meteorite is largely made up of iron and nickel.
More than 98 percent of its content was established as kamacite, an iron and nickel alloy that originates in space and can only be found in meteorites, notes Outer Places.
The rest of the 8.7-pound (3.96 kilogram) space rock packs a dozen minerals that mostly occur just in space. Among them is uakitite, which exists nowhere else on Earth except in the Uakit meteorite.
The researchers spotted this one-of-a-kind mineral with after examining the meteorite under a powerful microscope. The uakitite sample encased within the space rock is so tiny that it only consists of microscopic grains measuring just 5 micrometers. That’s about 25 times smaller than a fine grain of sand, explains Live Science.
Gold hunters in southern Russia might have been disappointed to learn that the speckled, yellow rock they uncovered was not a sizeable pebble of valuable metal. Instead, it was a rare piece of space-borne rubble containing a new mineral that had never b… https://t.co/JV3qnmmdhv
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While this discovery is truly remarkable, the researchers have met a few challenges in finding out more about uakitite, due to the incredibly small size of the sample.
“Unfortunately, we failed to obtain all physical and optical properties of uakitite because of the very small sizes of the grains,” the scientists wrote in a study, recently presented at the Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society in the Russian capital of Moscow.
What We Know About Uakitite So Far
One option of learning about the mineral’s properties was to infer them from synthetic vanadium nitride, a chemical compound of vanadium and nitrogen and which closely resembles uakitite, notes Live Science.
The alien mineral was also found to have the same kind of structure as mononitride minerals, such as carlsbergite and osbornite, known as some of the hardest minerals in the world.
Although some media reports claimed that uakitite was actually harder than diamond (for instance, this article published by the Daily Mail), study lead author Victor Sharygin explains that this is not the case. All monotrides are very hard and fall between 9 and 10 on the Mohs hardness scale, uakitite included. Diamonds, however, are a solid 10, above the hardness of monotrides, Sharygin pointed out.
Another thing that his team uncovered was that uakitite was likely forged under staggering temperatures, since the mineral was detected in troilite-daubreelite associations within the kamacite. These couldn’t have appeared unless the meteorite was exposed to temperatures well over 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius), notes the geologist.