Back in 2020, a chunk of a meteorite landed in the Sahara Desert. Now, scientists have announced that they think it is older than Earth.
An in-depth analysis of the rock's composition and age has revealed that the meteorite, known as Erg Chech 002, is about 4.6 billion years old and was formed volcanically. It is officially the oldest known example of magma from space, Live Science reports.
The findings, according to the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that it could have once been part of the crust of an object known as a protoplanet, which is a large, rocky body that was about to become a planet.
All of these facts make EC 002 extremely unusual since it is an extremely rare surviving chunk of a lost baby planet. This planet, belonging to a long-lost world, was probably destroyed or absorbed by bigger planets during our solar system's formation.
A mystery locked in rock
The pieces were first found in Adrar, Algeria, in May 2020 and they were quickly identified as unusual since it had clearly been formed by a volcano, which is strange since most rocky meteorites originate from sources with basaltic crusts, which is rapidly cooled lava that is rich in iron and magnesium. In contrast, this one's chemical composition was rich in silica and showed that it emerged from a partly-melted magma reservoir in the parent body's crust.
"This meteorite is the oldest magmatic rock analyzed to date and sheds light on the formation of the primordial crusts that covered the oldest protoplanets," the study authors wrote.
When the scientists compared EC 002 to the wavelength patterns of distant cosmic objects' spectral "fingerprints," they found that the unusual meteorite was "clearly distinguishable from all asteroid groups." Out of 10,000 objects in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey database, none were like the EC 002. The researchers wrote that "No object with spectral characteristics similar to EC 002 has been identified to date."
The researchers will be further analyzing this oldest magmatic rock ever identified, and while it births many mysteries, it is also bound to shed new light on the history of our solar system and expand our horizons.