Friday, 20 May 2011

Star born

There are over 4,500 named minerals on Earth. There will be plenty more found and named, too, unless the latest bunch of Rapture people are right about tomorrow and things all go pear-shaped. There haven't always been this many, though. At the moment it's thought that when the planet was formed there were only around sixty minerals. Discovering a new mineral must be quite a thrill - I met a guy once who had been named as official discoverer of a few, though I can't remember the names. A couple have been found recently that date right back to the origins of the solar system. Krotite and Wassonite were both found by careful study of meteorite sections.

Krotite was found in a meteorite from North Africa and contains a substance that can only form under conditions of temperature and pressure that match the creation of our solar system 4.55-4.6 billion years ago. Further study of the mineral might help scientists understand more about how minerals originally formed from the collapsing molecular cloud during that time. As the nebula cooled particles of matter began to group together and minerals were precipitated. Those minerals that form at the highest temperatures would obviously have formed earliest, and krotite would have been amongst the first.

Wassonite was discovered in an Antarctic meteorite which had been found some 42 years ago. The crystals of the mineral were too small to be seen until recent technology - the Bond-villain-esque ion beam - allowed a proper analysis. Wassonite is titanium sulphide. And really, really tiny.

As technology develops mineralogists will be able to find more and more minerals in meteorites. Meteorites are pretty tremendous in themselves, just for being a rock that's fallen out of space, but when you think of them as some of the first solids to have formed at the formation of our solar system, they gain a little something. Respect your elders.

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