Organic makeup of ancient meteorites sheds light on early solar system

09 August, 2018, 05:26 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • The NWA 11119 meteorite is about the size of a baseball and is estimated to be 4.6 billion years old. Credit UNM Newsroom

Around 4.5 billion years ago the cataclysmic explosion of an enormous star a supernova resulted in an expansive cloud of cosmic dust and gas to gather and form our solar system. As gravity took its course, debris and objects started colliding into one another around the sun until eventually the planets were born. One study published in Nature concluded that Earth lost almost 40 percent of its mass as vapor during collisional growth.

The weird meteorite described by Carl Agee, the Director of the University of New Mexico's Institute of Meteoritics, and colleagues provides chemical evidence that silica-rich crustal rocks were forming on planetesimals at least 10 million years before the assembly of the terrestrial planets.

At first, however, the space rock looked pretty unassuming.

At first sight, researchers were not sure if the rock was of any notable origin as the color is not very impressive.

Meteorites can serve as time-capsules, and researchers study the chemical composition of meteorites in hopes that it will shed light on the what chemical processes drove the formation of the solar system. Now, new research has enabled scientists from The University of New Mexico, Arizona State University and NASA's Johnson Space Center to add another piece to that puzzle with the discovery of the oldest-ever dated igneous meteorite. Not only is this an exceptionally abnormal rock type, its vociferating that not all asteroids appear the same. Some of them look nearly like the crust of the Earth because they're so light colored and full of SiO2.

The researchers found that the rock was 30 percent comprised of the mineral tridymite.


Overall, the composition of NWA 11119 is strikingly similar to the material that makes up Earth's crust, the outer layer of rock that forms a solid shell around the planet.

Subsequent investigations using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry determined the precise formation age of the meteorite: 4.565 billion years. But precisely how the planets were built remains an enigma to the scientists. "When we look out of the solar system today, we see fully formed bodies, planets, asteroids, comets and so forth". Meet "Northwest Africa 11119", the meteorite that's helping scientists learn about the early days of our solar system.

While previous studies focused on two other building block of life-hydrogen and nitrogen-this marks the first "high-precision triple oxygen isotope analysis" of carbonaceous chondrite organics.

"The meteorite studied is unlike any other known meteorite", says co-author and ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration graduate student Daniel Dunlap.

Presently a contemporarily found 4.6-billion-year-old, glittery green meteorite that was composed just prior to the outburst is assisting scientists educate more about how the solar system's planet assembled together.

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