Researchers have discovered a new mineral in a meteorite from the moon,media New Atlas reported. The mineral, named Donwilhemsite, appears to have formed under high pressure and may play a key role in the rock cycle deep in the Earth.
Donwilhel MSIte, consisting mainly of calcium, aluminum, silicon and oxygen atoms, was discovered in 2014 in a meteorite called Oued Awlitis 001 found in the Western Sahara desert. The team studied meteorite samples using a transmission electron microscope and determined the crystal structure of the new mineral. Specifically, donwilhelmsite was found in the shock melting zone of meteorites, melting under enormous pressure and temperature as rocks sped into the Earth’s atmosphere and collided with the earth’s surface, then cooled and hardened.
Interestingly, these conditions are similar to the environment deep in the Earth’s mantle, where minerals may exist that scientists cannot easily study. With this in in place, the researchers say donwilhelmsite may have formed naturally at depths of 460 to 700 kilometers (285 to 435 miles) below the surface.
Since the meteorites are made up of rocks similar to the rocks that make up the earth’s crust, the team believes that donwilhelmsite may have played a key role in transporting sediments in the crust — in the form of ancient tectonic plates being pushed deep into the Earth — by separating the transition zones of the upper and lower mantles.
The new mineral is named after Don Wilhelms, a lunar geologist who was part of a team that analyzed data and samples returned from the Apollo mission.
The team described the new mineral in the American journal Mineralogy.