Scientists find new type of mineral in historic meteorite

Apr 06, 2011
A bright field scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) micrograph showing a Wassonite grain in dark contrast.

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA and co-researchers from the United States, South Korea and Japan have found a new mineral named "Wassonite" in one of the most historically significant meteorites recovered in Antarctica in December 1969.

NASA and co-researchers from the United States, South Korea and Japan have found a new mineral named "Wassonite" in one of the most historically significant meteorites recovered in Antarctica in December 1969.

The new mineral was discovered within the officially designated Yamato 691 enstatite chondrite. The meteorite was discovered the same year as other landmark meteorites Allende and Murchison and the return of the first Apollo . The study of meteorites helps define our understanding of the formation and history of the .

The meteorite likely may have originated from an asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. Wassonite is among the tiniest, yet most important, minerals identified in the 4.5-billion-year-old sample. The research team, headed by space scientist Keiko Nakamura-Messenger, added the mineral to the list of 4,500 officially approved by the International Mineralogical Association.

"Wassonite is a mineral formed from only two elements, sulfur and titanium, yet it possesses a unique that has not been previously observed in nature," said Nakamura-Messenger.

In 1969, members of the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition discovered nine meteorites on the blue ice field of the Yamato Mountains in Antarctica. This was the first significant recovery of Antarctic meteorites and represented samples of several different types. As a result, the United States and Japan conducted systematic follow-up searches for meteorites in Antarctica that recovered more than 40,000 specimens, including extremely rare Martian and lunar meteorites.

Researchers found Wassonite surrounded by additional unknown minerals that are being investigated. The mineral is less than one-hundredth the width of a human hair or 50x450 nanometers. It would have been impossible to discover without NASA's transmission electron microscope, which is capable of isolating the Wassonite grains and determining their chemical composition and atomic structure.

"More secrets of the universe can be revealed from these specimens using 21st century nano-technology," said Nakamura-Messenger.

The new mineral's name was approved by the International Mineralogical Association. It honors John T. Wasson, professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Wasson is known for his achievements across a broad swath of meteorite and impact research, including the use of neutron activation data to classify meteorites and to formulate models for the chemical makeup of bulk chondrites.

"Meteorites, and the minerals within them, are windows to the formation of our solar system," said Lindsay Keller, space scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Keller is the co-discoverer and principal investigator of the microscope used to analyze the Wassonite crystals. "Through these kinds of studies we can learn about the conditions that existed and the processes that were occurring then."

Johnson's advanced work in nanotechnology is part of the center's Astromaterial Research and Exploration Science Directorate. It is currently the location for celestial materials that would be returned to Earth from spacecraft. The facility collaborates with industry, academic and international organizations.

"The beauty of this research is that it really demonstrates how the Johnson Space Center has become a pre-eminent leader in the field of nanoscale analysis," said Simon Clemett, a space scientist at Johnson and co-discoverer of the new mineral. "In the words of the great English poet William Blake, we are now able 'to see the world in a grain of sand'.

Explore further: NKorea launch pad expansion 'nearing completion'

More information: View more Wassonite images: www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/p… or_press_release.pdf

Related Stories

Unusual meteorite found in Antarctica

Sep 19, 2006

U.S. scientists say they recovered an unusual meteorite late last year in Antarctica -- a type of lunar meteorite seen only once before.

New lunar meteorite found in Antarctica

Sep 15, 2006

Although last year's inclement weather resulted in fewer Antarctic meteorite recoveries than usual, scientists have recently discovered that one of the specimens is a rare breed -- a type of lunar meteorite seen only once ...

Meteorites rich with information, expert says

Mar 28, 2007

A Purdue University professor on Wednesday (March 28) said at national convention that meteorites hold many clues into the creation and evolution of the solar system. Michael Lipschutz, a professor of inorganic chemistry and ...

Manitoba meteorite hunter scores again

Jul 18, 2005

A new meteorite identified by the Prairie Meteorite Search is posing a mystery about why so many meteorites have been found in eastern Manitoba, and has set a new Canadian record for the man behind the latest ...

Like a rock: New mineral named for UW astronomer

Jun 13, 2008

The International Mineralogical Association has named a new mineral, the first to be discovered in a particle from a comet, in honor of Donald Brownlee, a University of Washington astronomer who revolutionized research on ...

Half-baked asteroids have Earth-like crust

Jan 07, 2009

Asteroids are hunks of rock that orbit in the outer reaches of space, and scientists have generally assumed that their small size limited the types of rock that could form in their crusts. But two newly discovered ...

Recommended for you

Amazing raw Cassini images from this week

12 hours ago

When Saturn is at its closest to Earth, it's three-quarters of a billion miles away—or more than a billion kilometers! That makes these raw images from the ringed planet all the more remarkable.

Europe launches two navigation satellites

12 hours ago

Two satellites for Europe's rival to GPS were lifted into space on Friday to boost the Galileo constellation to six orbiters of a final 30, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

SpaceX gets 10-year tax exemption for Texas site

13 hours ago

Cameron County commissioners have agreed to waive 10 years of county taxes as part of an agreement bringing the world's first commercial site for orbital rocket launches to the southernmost tip of Texas.

Voyager map details Neptune's strange moon Triton

15 hours ago

(Phys.org) —NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first close-up look at Neptune and its moon Triton in the summer of 1989. Like an old film, Voyager's historic footage of Triton has been "restored" ...

How the sun caused an aurora this week

15 hours ago

On the evening of Aug. 20, 2014, the International Space Station was flying past North America when it flew over the dazzling, green blue lights of an aurora. On board, astronaut Reid Wiseman captured this ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Simonsez
not rated yet Apr 06, 2011
I find myself oddly aroused by this photograph.

Are any of Wassonite's properties known, or is it equivalent to manufactured Titanium(II) sulfide?
Norezar
not rated yet Apr 07, 2011
It is indeed a rather pretty crack.