Humans have been on Earth for long enough that we have a pretty darn good idea of what our planet is made of. Scientists have discovered, analyzed, and categorized countless minerals, and we know which ones are rare and which ones are abundant on our planet. So, when astronomers analyzing a meteorite discovered a material that has never been found on Earth before, it’s a big deal.
A space rock found in Russia — called the Uakit meteorite because of where it was found — contains some things that Earth just doesn’t have. The majority of the rock is made up of a material called kamacite, which is an alloy of iron and a little bit of nickel. It’s an alloy that has only ever been found in space rocks, but that wasn’t even the most interesting thing the meteorite was hiding.
Inside the rock, researchers discovered a totally new mineral which they have called uakitite. They only spotted the new mineral after examining the rock with a microscope, revealing incredibly tiny specks of the newfound mineral.
Researchers speaking at the Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society in Moscow announced their special find, explaining that the material is only found in space rocks that have experienced some seriously extreme temperatures. They know that kamacite formation requires temperatures of over 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s clear that this particular rock has had a very intense existence.
This isn’t the first space-borne mineral discovered by scientists, and other meteorites have yielded their own unique materials in the past. It’s thought that uakitite and minerals like it form in space rocks because many of them are exposed to such incredible heat. It’s incredibly unlikely that we’d ever find them naturally-occurring on the surface of Earth.
It’s not every day that scientists can add an entirely new mineral to their list. As we dive deeper into space with future missions it’s likely that we’ll find new materials that we’ve never seen before. For now, however, we’ll just have to wait for them to come to us.