Third kind of quasicrystal found in Russian meteorite | Science News

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Third kind of quasicrystal found in Russian meteorite

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

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9:00am, December 8, 2016
quasicrystal

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.

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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.

Citations

L. Bindi et al. Collisions in outer space produced an icosahedral phase in the Khatyrka meteorite never observed previously in the laboratory. Scientific Reports. Published online December 8, 2016. doi: 10.1038/srep38117.

Further Reading

T. Sumner. One of Earth’s missing minerals found locked inside meteorite. Science News Online, March 29, 2016.

T. Sumner. Earth's most abundant mineral finally has a name. Science News. Vol. 187, January 10, 2015, p. 4.

A. Yeager. Crystal-crystal contact makes quasicrystal. Science News Online, October 10, 2013.

N. Drake. Prospecting for quasicrystals. Science News. Vol. 182, November 3, 2012, p. 24.

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