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Scientists Name Earth's Most Abundant Mineral

Dec 15, 2014 05:49 PM EST
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Bridgmanite
Scientists have finally named Earth's most abundant mineral, a feat that has taken a half-century to complete, new research shows. [Pictured: A section of the L-chondrite meteorite Tenham that crashed in Australia in 1879, containing some Bridgmanite inside.]
(Photo : Tschauneret et al, Science)

Scientists have finally named Earth's most abundant mineral, a feat that has taken a half-century to complete, new research shows.

The mineral in question is now called Bridgmanite, a high-density form of magnesium iron silicate found 660 kilometers (410 miles) below the surface. Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory named it after 1964 Nobel laureate and pioneer of high-pressure research Percy Bridgman.

So now not only can researchers put a name to the face, but characterizing the mineral can also help them better understand the deep Earth.

The findings were originally published in the Nov. 28 issue of the journal Science.

For decades it has been believed that Bridgmanite's chemical and physical properties have a large influence on how elements and heat flow through the Earth's mantle. However, proving so is difficult considering that it fails to survive the trip to the surface where scientists could test the theory. According to the press release, they can get around this obstacle by instead studying ancient meteorites that fall to the Earth with Bridgmanite "frozen" inside.

When asteroid bodies in the solar system collide, they create hostile conditions akin to those of deep Earth - roughly 2,100 degrees Celsius (3,800 degrees Fahrenheit) and pressures of about 240,000 times greater than sea-level air pressure. This impact is so fast it inhibits Bridgmanite breakdown after pieces from the event - in the form of meteorites - fall down to Earth.

Using a new, non-destructive technique involving high-energy X-rays, the research team examined the L-chondrite meteorite Tenham, which crashed in Australia in 1879, looking at Bridgmanite grains smaller than one micrometer in diameter.

After years of trying to find, identify and characterize this mineral, scientists were surprised to find that Bridgmanite contains high amounts of ferric iron and sodium, a novel crystal chemistry that can be beneficial when studying deep mantle rocks in the future.

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