(ORDO NEWS) — The researchers found crystals never before described in the literature that were hidden in perfectly preserved samples of meteorite dust.
This dust was left behind after the fall of a massive space rock that exploded in the sky over Chelyabinsk nine years ago.
In 2013, an asteroid measuring 18 meters and weighing 11,000 tons entered the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 66,950 kilometers per hour.
Fortunately, the meteor exploded at an altitude of 23.3 kilometers above Chelyabinsk, showering the vicinity of the explosion site with tiny meteorites, which prevented a powerful single collision with the planet’s surface.
In a new study, scientists analyzed some of the tiny fragments of space rock that are close in size to dust. Usually, meteors produce some small amount of dust when burned, but this can be difficult to collect.
However, in the event of the explosion of the Chelyabinsk meteorite, a stable massive band of dust formed in the atmosphere, the particles of which remained in the air for four days before falling to the surface, according to NASA.
Fortunately, layers of snow that fell shortly before the event, as well as shortly after, allowed some of the dust samples to be preserved in their original form until the time they were discovered by scientists.
The researchers discovered these unusual crystals by accident while examining the material with a conventional optical microscope and immediately focused on them with a more powerful electron microscope.
These new crystals come in two forms – quasi-spherical shells and hexagonal rods – each with “unique morphological characteristics,” the authors said in the study.
Further analysis using X-ray instruments revealed that the crystals were composed of layers of graphite – a layered crystal lattice of carbon atoms – surrounding a central nanocluster located at the center of each crystal.
The researchers suggested that the most likely candidates for such a central cluster are either buckminsterfullerene (C60), a sphere of 60 carbon atoms arranged on the surface in the form of five and hexagonal rings, or polyhexacyclooctadecane (C18H12), a molecule composed of carbon and hydrogen.
The team hypothesizes that these crystals were formed under the high temperature and pressure conditions that occur when a meteorite breaks up, although the exact mechanism remains unclear.
In the future, scientists hope to find other samples of meteoritic dust from other space rocks in order to check whether these crystals are unique products formed during the decay of the Chelyabinsk meteorite, or whether the formation of such crystals is a common step in the decay of all meteors.
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