(will open in a new tab)
Researchers have discovered never-before-seen types of crystals hidden in tiny grains of perfectly preserved meteorite dust. The dust was left over from the explosion of a massive space rock that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, nine years ago.
February 15, 2013 asteroid measuring 59 feet (18 meters) across and weighing 12,125 tons (11,000 metric tons). Earthin the atmosphere at about 41,600 miles per hour (66,950 km/h). Fortunately, the meteor exploded about 14.5 miles (23.3 km) above the city of Chelyabinsk in southern Russia, showering the surrounding area with tiny meteorites and avoiding a colossal single impact with the surface. Experts of the time described this event as main alarm call about the dangers that asteroids pose to the planet.
The explosion of the Chelyabinsk meteorite was the largest explosion of its kind in the Earth’s atmosphere since the Tunguska event of 1908. It exploded with a force 30 times greater than a detonated atomic bomb. Hiroshimaaccording to NASA (will open in a new tab). Video recording (will open in a new tab) events showed a space rock burning up in a flash of light that was briefly brighter than sunbefore creating a massive sonic boom that shattered glass, damaged buildings and injured about 1,200 people in the city below, according to sister site Live Science. space.com (will open in a new tab).
In the new study, the researchers analyzed some tiny fragments of space rock left over from a meteorite explosion, known as meteorite dust. Normally, meteors produce a small amount of dust when they burn up, but tiny grains are lost to scientists because they are either too small to find, blown away by the wind, fall into the water, or are polluted by the environment. However, after the explosion of the Chelyabinsk meteorite, a massive plume of dust hung in the atmosphere for more than four days before, according to NASA, it eventually fell to the Earth’s surface. And, fortunately, layers of snow that fell shortly before and after the event trapped and preserved some of the dust samples until scientists were able to recover them soon after.
Connected: Diamond recovered from the bowels of the Earth contains a never-before-seen mineral
Researchers stumbled upon new types of crystals while examining dust grains under a standard microscope. One of these tiny structures, which was large enough to be seen under a microscope, happened to be in focus right in the center of one of the slides when one of the team members looked through the eyepiece. If it had been somewhere else, the team would have likely missed it, according to Scientific news (will open in a new tab).
By analyzing the dust with more powerful electron microscopes, the researchers found many more of these crystals and examined them in much greater detail. However, even then, “detection of crystals using an electron microscope was quite a challenge due to their small size,” the researchers wrote in their paper, published May 7 in European Physics Journal Plus (will open in a new tab).
(will open in a new tab)
The new crystals came in two different shapes; quasi-spherical or “almost spherical” shells and hexagonal rods, both of which were “unique morphological features,” the researchers write in the study.
Further analysis using X-rays showed that the crystals were composed of layers of graphite – shaped carbon made of overlapping sheets of atoms, commonly used in pencils, surrounding a central nanocluster at the heart of the crystal. The researchers suggest that the most likely candidates for these nanoclusters are buckminsterfullerene (C60), a cage-like ball of carbon atoms, or polyhexacyclooctadecane (C18H12), a molecule composed of carbon and hydrogen.
The team suspects that the crystals formed under high temperature and high pressure conditions caused by the meteor’s collapse, although the exact mechanism is still unclear. In the future, scientists hope to trace other meteoritic dust samples from other space rocks to find out if these crystals are a common by-product of a meteor breakup or if this is a unique case of the Chelyabinsk meteorite explosion.
Originally published on Live Science.
#Neverbeforeseen #crystals #perfectly #preserved #meteorite #dust