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.