The panguite embedded in the 40-year-old Allende meteorite. (Photo : Chi Ma / Caltech)
By looking at one of the largest old meteorites on our planet, scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have found a new mineral that is believe to be one of the oldest from our solar system. The findings could help reveal more about our solar system's origins and its infant nature.
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The new mineral is a type of titanium oxide and has been named panguite after the giant Pan Gu from Chinese mythology. Pan Gu is believed to have created the world as we know it by separating ying and yang to create the earth and sky.
"Panguite is an especially exciting discovery since it is not only a new mineral, but also a material previously unknown to science," says Chi Ma, a senior scientist and director of the Geological and Planetary Sciences division's Analytical Facility at Caltech and co-author of the paper.
The scientists discovered panguite by examining the Allende meteorite, the largest carbonaceous chondrite on our planet. Carbonaceous chondrite is a class of extremely primitive and old meteorite.
They used a scanning electron microscope in an ultra-refractory inclusion that was embedded in the meteorite. Refractory, in layman's terms, means that the inclusions contain minerals in high temperatures and extreme environments. This would indicate the minerals were formed as primitive, high temperature liquids when our solar system was formed.
Chi Ma is confident that by looking at minerals like panguite, and other early remnants of our solar system, we can piece together our collective solar history.
"Such investigations are essential to understand the origins of our solar system," he said.
The Allende meteorite burst into a fireball over the Mexican state of Chihuahua in 1969 and its pieces are still studied 40 years later.