Scientists have found the first hard evidence of a large and ancient protoplanet embedded in extraterrestrial diamonds that fell to Earth about 10 years ago. After all, they form at great depths-below the tectonic plates that make up Earth's crust. But we don't have information from them.
A new study published in the journal Nature Communications reports that the meteorite contains tiny diamonds - yes, diamonds. When the study authors pointed their microscopes on the inclusions in the diamonds, they discovered that each inclusion contained several different minerals, but always in the same relative proportion to those in the other inclusions. This was disproved when the researchers noticed that the diamonds were too large to have formed that way. Their findings also support the theory that this solar system and its planets were created from the remains of huge "proto-planets". Numerous rare meteorites contained nano-sized diamonds.
The researchers studied the diamond samples using a combination of advanced transmission electron microscopy techniques. Analysis of the Almahata Sitta meteorite reveals that it is an achondrite, a rare type of space rock that comes from celestial bodies that are large enough to generate internal heat early in their history so as to produce metallic cores surrounded by rock.
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"We didn't expect to see these inclusions at all", he said.
This fantastic finding could help us figure out one of the most enduring questions of astronomy, that of the formation of planets. After being freed, the sudden pressure drop could cause portions of diamond to convert to graphite.
"Owing to their stability, mechanical strength and melting temperature, diamonds very often encapsulate and trap minerals and melts present in their formation environment, in the form of inclusions", said the study by Farhang Nabiei et al. That would mean that the original planetary body was at least as big as the planet Mercury, assuming these diamonds formed at its center.
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Artist impression of an early solar system. In the models, these embryos crash into each other, shattering or glomming together until only a few rocky planets remain. High-energy collisions between worlds in space can leave such diamonds behind, as can deposition by chemical vapor, according to a statement from the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne in Switzerland. According to the new study, some extraterrestrial diamonds fell to Earth nearly 10 years ago that carry a lot of information about an ancient protoplanet of our solar system.
In 2008, chunks of space rock crashed in the deserts of Sudan.
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