Space rocks spun out of fairy floss-like dust clouds

July 11, 2016 by Rueben Hale, Sciencenetwork Wa, Science Network WA
PhD student Lucy Forman, from Curtin University Faculty of Science and Engineering with a small section of meteorite Allende. Credit: James Campbell.

Extraterrestrial space rocks have provided a window to the early beginnings of our solar system.

Curtin PhD student and enthusiast Lucy Forman says she has uncovered evidence that shows asteroids and rocky planets are formed from the collision of fairy floss-like dust clouds, contrary to existing formation theories.

Ms Forman, who shared her theory at the Fresh Science competition, held at the Brisbane Hotel last month, says studying wafer thin sections of the meteorite, Allende, can reveal insights into formation that occurred billions of years ago.

She says by studying the crystalline sections using an (EBSD) technique, she has concluded that small crystals in the meteorite have been pressurised and heated into a rocky body, but the large crystals appear untouched.

"The meteorite contains mostly unaltered large round crystals, called chondrules, and comparatively deformed little crystals, called matrix grains," Ms Forman says.

Heat and pressure was applied where pore spaces once were when it was compressed from dust cloud to asteroid, which only affected the smaller grains," she says.

The window provides a much better understanding of a solar-system evolutionary process, Ms Forman says.

"This is the first evidence of such an early process occurring, because the problem we have with meteorites is that when they're part of an asteroid or a planet lots of changes often occur after they become a solid rock," she says.

"Whereas in the case of the Allende meteorite it has more or less been preserved in its original state from its formation in space," she says.

The next phase of the study will be to look at meteorites that have been exposed to heat and pressure since becoming a rock and explore if the same compaction process is detectable, Ms Forman says.

Curtin microstructural geology expert Dr Nick Timms, who supervised Ms Forman's study, says her findings has shone a light on how primitive bodies started out in the early stages of the solar system.

"Initially, these rocks weren't as solid as they are now, as many previously thought, and, in fact, the rocks have compacted over time," he says.

"And the fact that these bodies came together in a very loose way, kind of like fairy floss, means that they behave quite differently when they collide, which changes the way we think about how the solar system has evolved over time," he says.

Explore further: Opal discovered in Antarctic meteorite

Related Stories

Opal discovered in Antarctic meteorite

June 28, 2016

Planetary scientists have discovered pieces of opal in a meteorite found in Antarctica, a result that demonstrates that meteorites delivered water ice to asteroids early in the history of the solar system. Led by Professor ...

Unknown alien rock found in Swedish quarry

June 14, 2016

A morsel of never-before-seen alien rock has been dug up in a limestone quarry in Sweden, where it had lain deeply buried for about 470 million years, scientists said Tuesday.

Researcher unveils history of an ancient meteorite

February 26, 2016

A Florida State University student has cracked the code to reveal the deep and interesting history of an ancient meteorite that likely formed at the time our planets were just developing.

First opal-like crystals discovered in meteorite

August 3, 2011

Scientists have found opal-like crystals in the Tagish Lake meteorite, which fell to Earth in Canada in 2000. This is the first extraterrestrial discovery of these unusual crystals, which may have formed in the primordial ...

Recommended for you

Engineering cellular function without living cells

March 25, 2019

Genes in living cells are activated – or not – by proteins called transcription factors. The mechanisms by which these proteins activate certain genes and deactivate others play a fundamental role in many biological processes. ...

What ionized the universe?

March 25, 2019

The sparsely distributed hot gas that exists in the space between galaxies, the intergalactic medium, is ionized. The question is, how? Astronomers know that once the early universe expanded and cooled enough, hydrogen (its ...

Catalyst advance removes pollutants at low temperatures

March 25, 2019

Researchers at Washington State University, University of New Mexico, Eindhoven University of Technology, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed a catalyst that can both withstand high temperatures and convert ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.