Mineral never seen on Earth, found in the Russian meteorite

Scientists discovered a new mineral in the Uakit meteorite. Credit:

Gold hunters in the south of Russia would have been disappointed to learn that the speckled, yellow rock, they discovered it was not a large pebble of the precious metal. Instead, it was a rare piece of space-borne debris with a new mineral that had never before seen on Earth.

The mineral came from the Uakit meteorite, named after the Russian location where it was found. Scientists recently presented their discovery of the giant meteorite, a new mineral with the name uakitite, at the Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society in Moscow.

The researchers found that more than 98% of the meteorite consists of kamacite, an alloy of iron and from 5 to 10 percent nickel, which is formed in the space and is only found in meteorites, which are rocks that fall from space to the earth’s surface. The remaining 1 to 2 percent of the meteorite consists of more than a dozen minerals which, for the most part, are only formed in the space. On top of that, the composition of the extraordinary space rock suggests that it must have formed under brutally hot temperatures, and more than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit (1000 degrees Celsius), the researchers said. [Fallen Stars: A Gallery of Famous Meteorites]

The team examined the meteorite with powerful microscopes and identified uakitite as small grains, that is not greater than 5 microns — about 25 times smaller than a fine grain of sand. The new mineral is so small that the scientists could not piece together all of its physical properties.

But they were able to determine that the mineral is structurally similar to two other space-borne minerals, carlsbergite and osbornite. These minerals are referred to as mononitrides, because they contain only one nitrogen atom in their chemical formula.

Mononitrides are very hard and are sometimes used as an abrasive, said Victor Sharygin, a geologist at the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy in Novosibirsk, Russia, and principal investigator of the discovery of uakitite.

A few news publications have reported that uakitite is harder than a diamond, but Sharygin said that that is not the case. In fact, he said, “the hardness of uakitite is not measured directly, because the granules were too small. Instead, the scientists an estimate of the hardness of the use of synthetically produced vanadium nitride, a mineral that seems to uakitite.

The researchers predicted that uakitite is between 9 and 10 on the Mohs scale of hardness, which means that it is very difficult — a diamond falls on 10. But Sharygin explained that the Mohs scale has a wide range between 9 and 10. All mononitrides fall on this side of the scale, ” he said, “but their hardness is lower than [that of] a diamond.”

Sharygin said that synthetic boron nitride, other mineral produced insanely hot temperatures, it is probably the only mineral that comes close to being as hard as a diamond.

Original article on Live Science.


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