While studying a meteorite which fell to Earth in the1960s, scientists have discovered one of the oldest minerals in the solar system. The new material, Panguite, could provide clues as to how our planet was formed.
"It's brand new to science," said geologist Chi Ma, from Caltech.
"Panguite is an especially exciting discovery since it is not only a new mineral, but also a material previously unknown."
Panguite is named in honor of Pan Gu, the creator of the universe in Chinese mythology.
The mineral arrived on Earth as part of the Allende meteorite in 1969. A so-called “primitive” meteorite, it is more than 4.5 billion years old and contains substances that have changed the least since our solar system appeared. Many of its fragments appeared tens of millions of years before Earth itself was formed.
Known as “the most-studied meteorite in history” it has produced hundreds of discoveries.
Chi Ma has been studying a fragment of Allende since 2007 and has already identified nine other new minerals.
Ma says that apart from Panguite’s theoretical value, its unique chemical composition and molecular structure could make it useful for engineers looking for new synthetic materials.