Meteorite found in Somalia turns out to contain two minerals that are not found on Earth

Further studies of the meteorite are in peril, though.
Ameya Paleja
A slice of the El Ali meteorite.
A slice of the El Ali meteorite.

University of Alberta 

A meteorite that fell in Somalia in 2020 is home to at least two minerals that are not found on our planet. The two minerals were identified by researchers at the University of Alberta, a press release said.

Tons of space material enters the Earth's atmosphere every day and burn up instantly. Very few actually survive the journey through the atmosphere and hit the ground, after which these space rocks are referred to as meteorites.

Large meteorites are rare but do occur, such as the one that fell near the town of El Ali in Somalia a couple of years ago. The celestial piece of rock weighs a massive 16.5 tons (15 tonnes) and yet is the ninth-largest meteorite ever found.

Two new minerals in the meteorite

A small piece of the meteorite weighing about 2.5 ounces (70 grams) was sent to the University of Alberta for classification, and the researchers found two minerals that are not found on Earth. "Whenever you find a new mineral, it means that the actual geological conditions, the chemistry of the rock, was different than what's been found before," said Chris Herd, a professor at the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences as well as the curator of the Meteorite Collection at the university.

Working with researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and California Insitute of Technology, Herd has classified the meteorite as an Iron IAB complex, which is composed of meteoritic iron and silicate inclusions.

Herd's research was also aided by the Electron Microprobe Laboratory at the University of Alberta, where an initial analysis revealed the presence of the two minerals. Research of this type usually takes a considerable amount of work to confirm the presence of a new mineral. However, in this case, the two minerals identified had been synthetically created before, so the researchers could match their compositions quickly to confirm their discovery.

Meteorite found in Somalia turns out to contain two minerals that are not found on Earth
One of the meteorites in University of Alberta's Meteorite Collection

Interestingly, there is a third new mineral that is under consideration, and its presence can only be confirmed after further analysis of completed.

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Names of the minerals

The two minerals confirmed so far have been dubbed elaliite and elkinstantonite. The first name comes from El Ali, the nearest town where the meteorite was found. The second, however, is a dedication to Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a researcher at Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration.

"Lindy has done a lot of work on how the cores of planets form, how these iron-nickel cores form, and the closest analog we have are iron meteorites," Herd added in the press release. "So it made sense to name a mineral after her and recognize her contributions to science."

Elkins-Tanton is the principal investigator of NASA's upcoming Psyche mission that will send a probe to the Psyche, a mineral asteroid, in a bid to understand the origins of the planets of our solar system.

However, this could also be the last we hear about the El Ali meteorite since the celestial rock has reportedly been moved to China in search of a potential buyer. If sold, whether the buyer will allow further samples to be taken for scientific analysis remains unknown for now.