In 2008, chunks of space rock crashed in the deserts of Sudan.
But that is not even the coolest thing about Almahata Sitta. The original asteroid is known as 2008 TC3 and scientists believe that meteoritediamonds that fell in the desert from the explosion could hold information about a long-lost stellar neighbor that was destroyed when the solar system was starting to form.
Our stellar neighborhood has eight main planetary bodies, but according to an worldwide team of scientists, there could have been another planet in our backyard, one that might have been destroyed at infancy during the chaotic formation of the solar system or in the ensuing years.
Astronomers think swarms of protoplanets - balls of gas, dust, and rock about the size of Mercury or Mars - once swirled around our young sun. That would mean that the original planetary body was at least as big as the planet Mercury, assuming these diamonds formed at its center. "This is part of the story of how we came to be".
Addi Bischoff, a meteorite expert at the University of Muenster, Germany, said the methods used for the study were sound and the conclusion was plausible. Unlike other meteorites, which can be traced to parent bodies such as asteroids, Mars or the moon by comparing the ratios of different varieties of elements, these rocks have no known source.
A chemical map shows sulfur and iron inside the inclusions in the diamond matrix. Credit Dr. F. Nabiei Dr. E. Oveisi EPFL Switzerland
On Earth, diamonds are time capsules with fascinating stories to tell.
And inside this one, they found diamonds. Among those minerals were microscopic crystals of diamond and graphite-two minerals composed entirely of carbon atoms.
"Then this opens whole new idea", Nabiei said. No, because it's been blown to bits, billions of years ago. The chemical ingredients found inside the diamonds suggest that they were formed inside a planet or protoplanet that disappeared at the time of chaotic early phase of the Universe. He laughed. "And indeed they did".
Their analysis also revealed that the fragments contained chromite, phosphate, and iron-nickel sulfides, chemicals or "inclusions" that are commonly found in Earth-originated meteorites but were never observed in a space rock fragment before this. According to the scientists, they reported that this type of conditions can only be possible in large planet body not in all planets. Nabiei can't say for sure. By the end of that era, about 100 million years after the birth of the solar system, only the four current terrestrial planets remained.
"This study provides convincing evidence that the ureilite parent body was one such large "lost" planet before it was destroyed by collisions [some 4.5 billion years ago]", researchers wrote in the new paper on the subject, published this week in the journal Nature Communications. But at first, the origins of the diamonds eluded researchers.
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