Third kind of quasicrystal found in Russian meteorite

Odd mineral first to be discovered in nature before being made in lab


QUIRKY CRYSTAL  A new type of quasicrystal (enlarged, right) has been discovered inside a fragment of a Russian meteorite (left), as seen in this backscattered electron image.

L. Bindi et al/Scientific Reports 2016

Another “impossible” crystal has been found locked inside a Russian meteorite.

The specimen is a quasicrystal, a type of material that shatters the rules of crystallography by having an ordered — yet never-repeating — arrangement of atoms. The new find is only the third natural quasicrystal ever found and is the first discovered in nature before being synthesized in a lab, researchers report online December 8 in Scientific Reports.

All three natural quasicrystals came from the same meteorite, discovered in a far-flung region of eastern Russia (SN: 11/3/12, p. 24). University of Florence geologist Luca Bindi and colleagues found micrometers-wide bits of the new quasicrystal in a grain of the meteorite collected during a 2011 expedition to the site. Probing the quasicrystal with electrons showed that the mineral is composed of aluminum, copper and iron atoms arranged in a way that’s similar to the pentagon-based pattern on a soccer ball.

Like its siblings, the new quasicrystal formed before landing on Earth when a cosmic fender bender between two space rocks caused rapid melting and cooling under extreme pressures, the researchers propose. While natural quasicrystals remain rare, companies have tinkered with using lab-made versions in everything from electronics to frying pan coatings.

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