Using 21st century nanotechnology, researchers have discovered a new mineral in samples from a meteorite discovered in Antarctica in 1969. The meteorite is 4.5 billion years old and originates from an asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.
This scanning transmission electron microscope image shows the Wassonite grain in dark contrast. (c) NASA
The new mineral has alluded scientists for some time since its discovery by a Japanese expedition team to Antarctica more than half a century ago, maybe due to its extremely tiny size – less than one-hundredth as wide as a human hair. Luckily nanotech has advanced dramatically since the meteorite known as Yamato 691 was discovered – a very well known historical piece in meteorite research and one of the first nine such cosmic bodies discovered in the ice-fields of Antarctica in 1969.
NASA scientists and their co-researchers from Japan and South Korea discovered the mineral after they found some unknown inclusions on the surface of the meteorite. Upon analysis they found the new mineral is made up of sulfur and titanium molecules that form an intricate crystal lattice, and although the mineral is extremely tiny it represents an integral component of the meteorite’s chemical composition.
The mineral was named Wassonite, in honor of Prof. John Wasson (UCLA) known for his unrivaled achievements in meteorite research, and was recently approved by the International Mineralogical Association for addition in the official list of minerals.
This latest discovery goes to show just how many minerals are still unknown to scientists. So far more than 40,000 specimens of celestial materials including Martian and Lunar meteorites have been collected from Antarctica – expect many of these to yield untold secrets.
“More secrets of the universe can be revealed from these specimens using 21st century nano-technology,” said Nakamura-Messenger, once again emphasizing the pivotal role of the nano-technology equipment available at NASA facilities.
Employing the help of the Mini-SAR instrument (a lightweight, synthetic aperture radar), NASA managed to find more than 40 craters covered with ice. Despite the fact that the craters are relatively small, it’s estimated that there is about 600 million metric tons in that area.
“The emerging picture from the multiple measurements and resulting data of the instruments on lunar missions indicates that water creation, migration, deposition and retention are occurring on the moon,” said Paul Spudis, principal investigator of the Mini-SAR experiment at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. “The new discoveries show the moon is an even more interesting and attractive scientific, exploration and operational destination than people had previously thought.”
Scientists have for the first time determined the actual permeability of the asthenosphere in Earth’s upper mantle, which is basically responsible for how fast the melt rises towards the surface of the earth, and the results were surprising to say the least. Researchers found that it actually moves 25 times faster than previously assumed, which forces us to reconsider every volcanic model that includes melt.
A huge centrifuge measuring 2 meters in diameter was embedded in the cellar’s floor. It spins at 2800 rotations per minute and creates an acceleration about 3000 times bigger than Earth’s gravity; when at full capacity, it creates 120 decibels, which is about as loud as an airplane, according to Max Schmidt, a professor from the Institute for Mineralogy and Petrology at ETH Zurich. It can reach 850 km/h, and after it reaches this speed, if you would turn it off, it takes about an hour to stop.
This globally unique centrifuge cast a whole new light on how we perceive magmatism. The researchers used it to simulate the transport of molten lava made of basaltic glass from the mid-ocean ridge. The matrix through which the melt passed through consisted of olivine, which makes about 2/3 of the upper mantle. They applied a temperature of 1300 degrees and a pressure of 1 giga pascal. After the basaltic mass melted, they accelerated to about 700 g’s and were then able to calculate the permeability directly by microscopic analysis and were then able to correlate porosity to permeability, which is a main part for thermo-mecanical models.
In the light of these new discoveries, these models have to be revised; if the magma ascends much faster that means it interacts a lot less with the rock it penetrates. It also explains a few things, such as why volcanoes are active for only a few thousand years.