Small meteorite gives insight into early solar system

Researchers have found the oldest igneous meteorite on record, a discovery that sheds new light on the early solar system.
By Joseph Scalise | Aug 07, 2018
A 4.6-billion-year-old meteorite that formed before our solar system could shed light on that way all of the planets came about, according to a new study in in the journal Nature Communications.

Our solar system first formed from a cloud of dust and gas created by a gigantic supernova. Though little is known about that ancient period, the new discovery -- made by researchers at the University of New Mexico -- may provide new insight into the elusive period.

The ancient space rock, known as NWA 11119, came to the University of New Mexico in 2016. Though the team did not know its origin right away, careful analysis revealed the object was in fact a meteor.

"We did not think this rock was a meteor at all,"said lead author Poorna Srinivasan, a researcher from the University of New Mexico, according toLive Science. "We thought it was from Earth. We saw that this could, in no way, be from Earth."

Though the rock closely resembled volcanic Earth rocks, the chemical composition showed that is came from beyond the planet.

Not only that, but NWA 11119 is an igneous meteorite. That means it came about through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava some 4.6 billion years ago, making it the oldest such meteorite on record.

Large silica crystals known as tridymite make up roughly 30 percent of NWA 11119. Though that is similar to the amount found in volcanic rocks, it is much more than any other known meteorites. In fact, it is incredibly similar to Earth's crust.

For that reason, the team believes that NWA 11119 is a crustal rock from an asteroid whose crust formed similar to Earth's.

Additional analysis also revealed that the meteorite closely resembles two other unusual meteorites called NWA 7235 and Almahata Sitta. As a result, it is likely that all three came from the same body.

This new information is important because it could help scientists get a much better picture of how planets form and shed new light on the way our early solar system came about.

"This research is key to how the building blocks of planets formed early in the solar system," said lead author Carl Agee, a researcher at the University of New Mexico, according to Science Daily. "When we look out of the solar system today, we see fully formed bodies, planets, asteroids, comets and so forth. Then, our curiosity always pushes us to, to ask the question, how did they form, how did the Earth form?"

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