A New Mineral Was Discovered in a Diamond That Formed 410 Miles Below Earth

Scientists thought they might never find a sample of the elusive mineral.
Chris Young

Scientists discovered a never-before-seen mineral inside a diamond extracted from deep below the Earth's surface, a report from LiveScience reveals.

Though it was predicted years ago, the scientific community thought they would never find a sample of the elusive material. The mineral, dubbed davemaoite after pioneering geophysicist Ho-Kwang (Dave) Mao, is the first and only example of a high-pressure calcium silicate perovskite (CaSiO3) to have been found on Earth.

The discovery led the International Mineralogical Association to officially confirm davemaoite as a new mineral.

An elusive mineral formed deep inside the Earth

The mineral was detected inside a diamond found in Botswana, that formed in the mantle approximately 410 miles (600 km) below the Earth's surface. As a point of reference, the deepest hole ever dug by human machines is the Kola Superdeep Borehole, which reaches a depth of 7.6 miles (12.2 km). Diamonds form deep below the Earth's surface before rising up as a result of volcanic eruptions.

Though another form of CaSiO3, wollastonite, is abundant on Earth, davemaoite's crystalline structure can only form under incredibly high-pressure and high-temperature conditions inside Earth's Mantle. Scientists predicted that Davemaoite should also be abundant in Earth's mantle, though they never found any travel of the mineral due to the fact that it breaks down into other minerals when it reaches the Earth's surface and pressure conditions decrease. 

Advanced analysis unearths hidden mineral

Davemaoite was discovered inside the diamond from Botswana using advanced analysis procedures detailed in a new paper published in the journal Science. The team of scientists, from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, used a technique called synchrotron X-ray diffraction. It trains high-energy X-ray beams on the inside of the diamond, allowing the scientists to decipher what's inside by analyzing the angle and intensity of the reflected light. It is believed that davemaoite could contain trace elements, such as uranium and thorium, meaning it might generate a great deal of heat in the mantle, the researchers explain.

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In 2019, the scientific community was treated to another new mineral, when a piece of a million-year-old meteorite was analyzed, revealing a never-before-seen alien mineral. The new University of Nevada research on davemaoite shows that we likely have a wealth of unknown materials under our very noses. It shows that diamonds can form further down in the mantle than scientists previously believed possible, opening up a vast new area of investigation for geophysicists. 

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