Science and Nature

Mystery behind diamond-studded meteorite that hit Sudan in 2008 revealed

Mystery behind diamond-studded meteorite that hit Sudan in 2008 revealed thumbnail

This false-colour microscope image of a meteorite sample collected in Sudan shows amphibole crystals, a unique feature, highlighted in orange. (Image: Courtesy of NASA/USRA/Lunar and Planetary Institute )

The mystery behind a diamond-studded meteorite that exploded over Sudan in 2008 has been somewhat revealed as per researchers at Southwest Research Institute based in Texas, US. The study suggests that the meteorite was part of a giant asteroid in our solar system, which was the same size as the dwarf planet Ceres. The latter is the largest celestial object in the asteroid belt.

When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had first spotted the meteorite before impact, as per the calculations, it was 13 foot in diameter and weighed 8,200 kg. A sample of 50 grams analysed by a team under an infrared microscope has found that the meteorite had a unique mineral makeup, including ‘amphibole’ which requires prolonged exposure to water in order to develop.

The mineral also only once appeared on a meteorite known as Allende which fell in Chihuahua, Mexico half a century ago.

“Some of these meteorites are dominated by minerals providing evidence for exposure to water at low temperatures and pressures,” study co-author Vicky Hamilton, a planetary geologist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in the statement. “The composition of other meteorites points to heating in the absence of water.”

The meteorite belongs to the category of 4.6 per cent of meteorites that have been found and researched on Earth. These black rocks are known as Almahata Sitta (AhS) and are made of a material called carbonaceous chondrite. The space rock also contains organic compounds along with a variety of minerals and water.

The scientists are also pinning their hopes on samples collected by Japan’s Hayabusa2 and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from asteroids Ryugu and Bennu. The OSIRIS-REx is due to return to Earth in 2023 whereas Hayabusa2 has returned already.

“If the compositions of the Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx samples differ from what we have in our collections of meteorites, it could mean that their physical properties cause them to fail to survive the processes of ejection, transit and entry through Earth’s atmosphere, at least in their original geologic context,” Hamilton, who also serves on the OSIRIS-REx science team, added. “However, we think that there are more carbonaceous chondrite materials in the Solar System than are represented by our collections of meteorites.”

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