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Scientists Find Extra-terrestrial Mineral in Meteorite

Jun 29, 2016 11:56 PM EDT
Opal found on EET 83309 meteorite
A false-color image of the narrow opal rim surrounding a bright metallic mineral inclusion in the Antarctic meteorite EET 83309; the circular holes in this image are spots where laser analyses have been performed.
(Photo : Prof. Hilary Downes et. al)

A team of scientists has discovered tiny pieces of water-bearing opal (that did not belong to Earth) in a meteorite that was uncovered in Antartica. The discovery, according to lead scientist Prof. Hilary Downes of Brikbeck College London, shows that in the early life of the Solar System, meteorites delivered water ice to asteroids.

The unique composition of opal makes it one of the most popular minerals on the planet. It is composed of 30 percent water on the surface, and since then has not been identified on any asteroid until today. It had only been ponce found on a meteorite that came from Mars, in the form of tiny crystals.

As the researchers studied the thousands of broken rock and mineral pieces from meteorite EET 83309 and analyzed the composition of the minerals, most especially opal.

The team concluded that the opal discovered was of extra-terrestrial origin, and was not formed while the meteorite was stuck in the ice in Antartica. The opal was formed before the meteorite had been blasted off its parent asteroid and was floating in space, before eventually crashing into Earth in Antarctica.

In the study reported this week in Nottingham during the National Astronomy Meeting 2016, the team also added that there is increasingly more evidence that asteroids and meteorites are able to carry large amounts of water ice. Although there is worry of the effects of the large asteroid hitting the Earth, it might be the bearer of water to Earth and started life.

Downes and her team continue to study the meteorite and find further evidence that the meteorite might have been the source of water on Earth, solving one of the greatest mysteries of time on how life started on the planet.

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