A massive meteorite discovered in Somalia in 2020 has been hiding what researchers call a "phenomenal" discovery – two new minerals, and potentially a third, that have never before been seen on Earth.
The minerals were discovered from a 70-gram slice of the 15.2-ton "El Ali" meteorite that had been known about by locals for five to seven generations but was only officially discovered two years ago. Researchers from the University of Alberta analyzed the slice to find two minerals – one named elaliite after theand the other named elkinstantonite after Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of Arizona State University's Interplanetary Initiative and a principal investigator on NASA's Psyche mission.
There is also potential for a third newly-discovered mineral, the University of Alberta said in a press release, and it's possible that even more will be found.
University of Alberta professor and Meteorite Collection curator Chris Herd helped make the identification, along with Andrew Locock, the head of the university's Electron Microprobe Laboratory.
"The very first day he did some analyses, he said, 'You've got at least two new minerals in there,'" Herd said in a press release. "That was phenomenal. Most of the time it takes a lot more work than that to say there's a new mineral."
And it's all a happy accident. Herd said at a presentation of the findings at the Space Exploration Symposium last week that they "happened to stumble upon" the new minerals.
"We didn't go in looking for new minerals, we just happened to find them," he said.
That easy identification was possible because of manmade versions of them that matched the compositions. Now, the research into these minerals will continue – and with the hope that their discovery could prompt new uses in the scientific, and everyday, world.
"That's my expertise – how you tease out the geologic processes and the geologic history of the asteroid this rock was once part of," Herd said. "I never thought I'd be involved in describing brand new minerals just by virtue of working on a meteorite."
However, work on the meteorite may be reserved to the single sample they acquired. Herd said that the rest of the meteorite may have been moved to China to be sold, and it's unclear if researchers will be able to obtain more samples.
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