Researchers have uncovered previously unseen crystals form buried in microscopic grains of well-preserved meteorite dust. A big space rock erupted above Chelyabinsk, Russia, nine years ago, leaving behind dust.
On February 15, 2013, an asteroid 59 feet (18 meters) broad and weighing 12,125 tonnes (11,000 metric tonnes) reached Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of roughly 41,600 mph (66,950 km/h). Fortunately, the meteor burst 14.5 miles (23.3 kilometers) above the southern Russian city of Chelyabinsk, showering the surrounding region with small meteorites and averting a massive single strike with the earth. At the time, experts regarded the occurrence as a big wake-up call about the risks that asteroids represent to the world.
The Chelyabinsk meteor explosion was the greatest of its type to strike the Earth’s atmosphere since the Tunguska catastrophe in 1908. According to NASA, it detonated with 30 times the power of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Video of the incident showed the space rock exploding in a blaze of light brighter than the sun, followed by a strong sonic boom that smashed glass, wrecked buildings, and wounded about 1,200 people in the city below.
Researchers examined some of the microscopic particles of space rock left behind when the meteor burst, known as meteorite dust, in a new study. Meteors normally release a little quantity of dust when they burn up, but the tiny grains are lost to scientists because they are either too small to discover, dispersed by the wind, fall into the water, or tainted by the environment. According to NASA, when the Chelyabinsk meteor erupted, a gigantic cloud of dust remained in the sky for more than four days before showering down on Earth’s surface. Fortunately, layers of snow that fell immediately before and after the event contained and kept certain dust samples until scientists were able to collect them.
The researchers discovered the novel crystal kinds while looking at dust particles under a conventional microscope. One of these small structures, which was barely visible under the microscope, happened to be in focus exactly in the middle of one of the slides when one of the team members gazed through the eyepiece. According to Sci-News, if it had been anyplace else, the crew would have missed it.
The researchers discovered many more of these crystals and investigated them in more detail after studying the dust with increasingly powerful electron microscopes. Even yet, “identifying the crystals with an electron microscope was somewhat difficult owing to their tiny size,” the researchers stated in their report, published May 7 in The European Physical Journal Plus.
The Appearance of the Crystals
The new crystals had two different shapes: quasi-spherical, or “nearly spherical,” shells and hexagonal rods, which the researchers described as “unique morphological characteristics.”
X-ray examination showed that the crystals were comprised of layers of graphite — a kind of carbon created from overlapping sheets of atoms that is often used in pencils — that surrounded a core nanocluster at the center of the crystal. Buckminsterfullerene (C60), a cage-like ball of carbon atoms, or polyhexacyclooctadecane (C18H12), a molecule consisting of carbon and hydrogen, are proposed as the most plausible possibilities for these nanoclusters by the researchers.
The crystals developed amid the high-temperature and high-pressure circumstances caused by the meteor splitting apart, according to the study, albeit the specific process is yet unknown. The scientists plan to collect further samples of meteorite dust from other space rocks in the future to determine if these crystals are a frequent result of meteor break-ups or are unique to the Chelyabinsk meteor outburst.