Scientists Find New Type Of Mineral In Historic Meteorite

HOUSTON -- NASA and co-researchers from the United States, South Korea and Japan have found a new mineral named "Wassonite" in one of the most historically significant meteorites recovered in Antarctica in December 1969.

The new mineral was discovered within the meteorite officially designated Yamato 691 enstatite chondrite. The meteorite was discovered the same year as other landmark meteorites Allende and Murchison and the return of the first Apollo lunar samples. The study of meteorites helps define our understanding of the formation and history of the solar system.

The meteorite likely may have originated from an asteroid orbiting
between Mars and Jupiter. Wassonite is among the tiniest, yet most
important, minerals identified in the 4.5-billion-year-old sample.
The research team, headed by NASA space scientist Keiko
Nakamura-Messenger, added the mineral to the list of 4,500 officially
approved by the International Mineralogical Association.

"Wassonite is a mineral formed from only two elements, sulfur and
titanium, yet it possesses a unique crystal structure that has not
been previously observed in nature," said Nakamura-Messenger.

In 1969, members of the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition
discovered nine meteorites on the blue ice field of the Yamato
Mountains in Antarctica. This was the first significant recovery of
Antarctic meteorites and represented samples of several different
types. As a result, the United States and Japan conducted systematic
follow-up searches for meteorites in Antarctica that recovered more
than 40,000 specimens, including extremely rare Martian and lunar meteorites.

Researchers found Wassonite surrounded by additional unknown minerals
that are being investigated. The mineral is less than one-hundredth
the width of a human hair or 50x450 nanometers. It would have been
impossible to discover without NASA's transmission electron
microscope, which is capable of isolating the Wassonite grains and
determining their chemical composition and atomic structure.

"More secrets of the universe can be revealed from these specimens
using 21st century nano-technology," said Nakamura-Messenger.

The new mineral's name was approved by the International Mineralogical
Association. It honors John T. Wasson, professor at the University of
California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Wasson is known for his achievements
across a broad swath of meteorite and impact research, including the
use of neutron activation data to classify meteorites and to
formulate models for the chemical makeup of bulk chondrites.

"Meteorites, and the minerals within them, are windows to the
formation of our solar system," said Lindsay Keller, space scientist
at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Keller is the
co-discoverer and principal investigator of the microscope used to
analyze the Wassonite crystals. "Through these kinds of studies we
can learn about the conditions that existed and the processes that
were occurring then."

Johnson's advanced work in nanotechnology is part of the center's
Astromaterial Research and Exploration Science Directorate. It is
currently the location for celestial materials that would be returned
to Earth from spacecraft. The facility collaborates with industry,
academic and international organizations.

"The beauty of this research is that it really demonstrates how the
Johnson Space Center has become a pre-eminent leader in the field of
nanoscale analysis," said Simon Clemett, a space scientist at Johnson
and co-discoverer of the new mineral. "In the words of the great
English poet William Blake, we are now able 'to see the world in a
grain of sand'.

Collaborators in the discovery of the new mineral include Clemett,
Keller and Zia Rahman in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration
Science Directorate at Johnson; Alan Rubin from UCLA; Byeon-Gak Choi
from Seoul National University, South Korea; Shouliang Zhang from the
Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston; and Katsunari Oikawa from
Tohoku University, Japan.

To see images of Wassonite, visit:


Source: NASA

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