left corner left corner
China Daily Website

US scientists name newly-found meteoritic mineral

Updated: 2012-06-27 20:39
( Xinhua)

LOS ANGELES - US scientists have discovered a previously unknown substance in the Allende meteorite believed to be among the oldest minerals in the solar system.

The titanium oxide is named panguite after Pan Gu, the giant in ancient Chinese mythology who created the world by separating the heaven and the earth from chaos.

The denomination is "in allusion to the mineral with an ultra-refractory origin, being among the first solid materials formed in the solar system," Chi Ma, a senior scientist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), told Xinhua on Tuesday.

The mineral and its name have been approved by the International Mineralogical Association's Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification.

A paper outlining the discovery and the properties of the new mineral will be published in the July issue of the American Mineralogist journal and is available online now.

"Panguite is an especially exciting discovery since it is not only a new mineral, but also a material previously unknown to science," Ma, who also serves as director of Caltech's Geological and Planetary Sciences division, said in a news release.

Studies of panguite and other newly discovered refractory minerals are continuing in an effort to learn more about the conditions under which they formed and subsequently evolved.

"Such investigations are essential to understand the origins of our solar system," Ma said.

Panguite was observed first under a scanning electron microscope in an ultra-refractory inclusion embedded in the meteorite. Refractory inclusions are among the first solid objects formed in our solar system, dating back before the formation of the Earth and other planets.

"Refractory" refers to the fact that these inclusions contain minerals that are stable at high temperatures and in extreme environments, which attests to their likely formation as primitive, high-temperature liquids produced by the solar nebula.

According to Ma, panguite is for cosmochemistry and mineralogy. The investigation of panguite demonstrates a new approach for characterizing solid materials at nano scales which combines high resolution scanning electron microscopy and synchrotron micro-diffraction.

Panguite represents a case of crystal symmetry-reduction, which may be explored for finding new engineering materials.

In 1969, an exploding fireball tore through the sky over Mexico, scattering thousands of pieces of meteorite across the state of Chihuahua.

The Allende meteorite is the largest carbonaceous chondrite, a diverse class of primitive meteorites, ever found on Earth and is one of the best-studied meteorite.

After more than 40 years, the Allende meteorite is still serving the scientific community as a rich source of information about the early stages in the evolution of the solar system.