4.46 billion year old meteorite flew around in space before Earth was born

The NWA 11119 meteorite is about the size of a baseball and is estimated to be 4.6 billion years old. Credit: UNM Newsroom

About 4.5 billion years ago, the catastrophic explosion of a massive star, a supernova, causes an immense cloud of cosmic dust and gas to come together in our solar system. But it is exactly how the planets were built, remains somewhat of a mystery to scientists.

Now, a newly discovered, 4.6 billion years old, sparkling, green meteorite that formed just before the explosion helping scientists to learn more about how the solar system the planets were merged.

The remarkable baseball-size space rock, called Northwest Africa (NWA) 11119, was acquired by a meteorite dealer in Africa in 2016. That dealer sent the specimen Carl Agee, a planetary geologist and meteorite curator of the University of New Mexico. Age was not quite sure whether the rock was a meteorite (that would mean that it came out of the room), so he asked his phd student Poorna Srinivasan for the analysis of the object. [Photos: Images of Martian Meteorites]

At first, both Age, and Srinivasan were skeptical that the rock had to come from outside our planet. “We did not know that this rock was a meteor. We thought that it was from the Earth,” Srinivasan told Live Science. But after further research, she said, “we saw that this could not be from Earth.” While the rock overlaps the volcanic rocks on Earth, the chemical composition indicated it was definitely from space, and it was not just an ordinary meteorite, the researchers found.

NWA 11119 is an igneous meteorite, meaning that it is formed by cooling and solidification of magma or lava (which is what magma is called once it reaches the surface of a planet). At 4.6 billion years old, NWA 11119 is the oldest igneous meteorite ever discovered. (Srinivasan explained that different nonigneous meteorites are even older.)

Large silicon crystals, called tridymite, accounting for about 30 percent of the NWA 11119. That amount of tridymite is similar to what is found in volcanic rocks on Earth, but it is unheard of in meteorites, Srinivasan said in a University of New Mexico-statement.

In short, the composition of NWA 11119 is remarkably similar to the material that makes up earth’s crust is the outer layer of rock that forms a solid shell around the planet. That is the reason why the researchers suspect that NWA 11119 is a crust rock of an asteroid with a crust layer that formed in a way that is similar to how earth’s crust formed.

Additional chemical analyses showed that the meteorite overlaps with the other two unusual meteorites — NWA 7235 and Almahata Sitta — suggest that all three of the space rocks come from the same parent company, Srinivasan said.

There is still much scientists do not understand how planets are built, but a discovery like this can help researchers understand “what an earlier version of the Earth might have looked like,” Srinivasan said.

“There is still so much to learn about how the earth’s crust would have formed,” she said. “We scraped the surface here.”

Srinivasan is the lead author of the study is to describe NWA 11119, published yesterday (Aug. 2) in the journal Nature Communications.

Original article on Live Science.


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