Scientists Confirm The Discovery of a Mineral Never Before Seen in Nature

Scientists Confirm The Discovery of a Mineral Never Before Seen in Nature
Inside the Wedderburn meteorite. Source: Rodney Start/Museums Victoria

 Mineral 'NEVER seen before in nature' is discovered inside a meteorite in Australia, scientists claim

It was found along the side of a road in a remote Australian gold rush town. In the old days, Wedderburn was a hotspot for prospectors – it occasionally still is – but nobody there had ever seen a nugget quite like this one.

The Wedderburn meteorite, found just north-east of the town in 1951, was a small 210-gram chunk of strange-looking space rock that fell out of the sky. For decades, scientists have been trying to decipher its secrets, and researchers just decoded another.

In a new study led by Caltech mineralogist Chi Ma, scientists analysed the Wedderburn meteorite and verified the first natural occurrence of what they call 'edscottite': a rare form of iron-carbide mineral that's never been found in nature.

Named after the Australian town that it was found in, back in 1951, the Wedderburn meteorite has unveiled a new side: a mineral that has never been seen naturally on Earth has been founded inside it.

The mineral has been named 'edscottite Fe5C2,' after Edward Scott, a renowned cosmochemist from the University of Hawaii.

The mineral was discovered after a team of researchers from CalTech, lead by mineralogist Chi Ma. They closely examined a segment of what's left of the original 220-gram red and black rock.

The original meteorite is kept as part of the Museums Victoria's collection in Australia.

A mineral is an assortment of atoms set into a specific form, and naturally occurring in nature. For example, salt and diamonds are both minerals, one is made of sodium chloride, and the other is made of pure carbon.

What did the researchers find here?

Inside the Wedderburn meteorite, the researchers discovered a new mineral. Microscopically, it appears as small white crystals.

This mineral is a combination of carbon and iron atoms, set together in a particular pattern. "This meteorite had an abundance of carbon in it. And as it slowly cooled down, the iron and carbon came together and formed this mineral," said Dr. Stuart Mills, Museums Victoria's senior curator of geosciences.

What is new about 'edscottite'?

A synthetic edscottite has, in fact, been discovered previously - typically found inside smelters. It is a phase that iron goes through while it is smelted into steel.

The difference here is that edscottite has never been known or discovered to be naturally occurring in nature. Only when minerals are found in nature can they be named.

This is what makes this discovery so exciting. As Dr. Mills pointed out, "We have discovered 500,000 to 600,000 minerals in the lab, but fewer than 6,000 that nature’s done itself."

Wedderburn meteorite's story

Many scientists have claimed chunks of it over the years in the name of research, and only one-third of the meteorite is still left. Let's see if any more interesting discoveries can be made from the Wedderburn Meteorite.

The meteorite is believed to have emanated from an old planet, which no longer exists. As it blew apart, meteorites from its core got thrust out into space.

The Wedderburn meteorite was one such chunk from the blasted planet. It was circling up in space for millions of years, before colliding on Earth, and into the Australian territory.

The findings are reported in American Mineralogist.
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