A meteorite that landed in Somalia not long ago has been found to contain two minerals that have never been discovered on Earth before.


Two substances that were previously unknown on Earth have been identified and given names.

A slice of the El Ali meteorite that fell in Somalia in 2020. Image credit: University of Alberta

In 2020, a massive meteorite crashed in Somalia, and scientists from the University of Alberta have identified at least two minerals within it that had never been observed on Earth before, as stated in a press release.

Every day, Earth’s atmosphere encounters tons of space material, but only a small fraction of it manages to survive the journey and reach the ground. Most of these objects, upon entry, quickly burn up from the outside in due to the friction with the atmosphere, a process known as ablation.

Because of this phenomenon, only a limited number of large meteorites actually make it to the Earth’s surface. The one that landed near El Ali in Somalia is a remarkable exception. This celestial rock fragment is exceptionally heavy, weighing a staggering 16.5 tons (15 tonnes), and it ranks as the ninth-largest meteorite ever discovered.

The 15-ton El Ali meteorite found in Somalia is the ninth-largest meteorite ever found. Image credit: University of Alberta

Upon sending a small portion of the meteorite, weighing approximately 2.5 ounces (70 grams), to the University of Alberta for analysis, researchers identified two minerals that have never been observed on Earth.

Chris Herd, a professor in the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences and curator of the University of Alberta’s Meteorite Collection, explained, “Whenever you find a new mineral, it means that the actual geological conditions and the chemistry of the rock were different than what’s been found before. That’s what makes this exciting: In this particular meteorite, you have two minerals that are newly described and officially new to the field of science.”

The El Ali meteorite is big, but it is dwarfed by the 60-tonne, 2.7 m (8.9 ft) long Hoba meteorite in Namibia, the largest known intact meteorite. Image credit: Calips

Confirming the existence of a new mineral typically involves a substantial amount of effort. However, in this instance, the two identified minerals had previously been artificially produced, simplifying the process of verifying their presence. The team could swiftly confirm their discovery by comparing their compositions. Furthermore, an initial analysis conducted at the Electron Microprobe Laboratory at the University of Alberta also affirmed the minerals’ presence within the meteorite.

The two recently unearthed minerals have been given the names “elaliite” and “elkinstantonite.” The first mineral derives its name from the meteorite it was found in, while the second mineral was named in honor of Professor Lindy Elkins-Tanton, who serves as the principal investigator for NASA’s forthcoming Psyche mission.

Chris Herd further explained, “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. So it made sense to name a mineral after her and recognize her contributions to science.”

Scientists would need a bigger piece of the meteorite to be able to carry on researching the meteorite’s composition. Image credit: University of Alberta

It’s worth noting that a third potential new mineral is currently being considered, and its existence can only be verified after additional analysis is carried out. Chris Herd emphasized that if researchers were able to acquire more samples from this massive meteorite, there’s a possibility of uncovering even more new minerals.

Regrettably, the likelihood of obtaining additional samples from the El Ali meteorite in the near future seems low. Reports indicate that the meteorite has been relocated to China for the purpose of sale. Whether a prospective buyer would be willing to permit further sample collection for scientific research remains uncertain.

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