The mineral – named Wassonite – was found in the meteorite officially designated Yamato 691 enstatite chondrite by NASA and co-researchers in the US, South Korea and Japan using NASA’s transmission electron microscope.
Wassonite is among the tiniest yet important mineral found in the 4.5 billion year old sample, thought to originate from an asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. It has been added to the list of 4,500 minerals officially approved by the International Mineralogical Association.
“Wassonite is a mineral formed from only two elements, sulphur and titanium, yet is possessed a unique crystal structure that has not been previously observed in nature,” said NASA space scientist Keiko Nakanura-Messenger. “More secrets of the universe can be revealed from these specimens using 21st Century nano-technology.”
The mineral – less than one-hundredth the width of a human hair – was found surrounded by an additional unknown material that is now being investigated.
“Meteorites, and the minerals within them, are windows to the formations of our solar system,” said Lindsay Keller, principal investigator of the microscope used to analyse wassonite crystals. “Through these kinds of studies we can learn about the conditions that existed and the processes that were occurring then.”
Wassonite is named after John T Wasson – a professor at the University of California Los Angeles – who is known for his achievements across a number of meteorites and impact research, including the use of neutron activation data to classify meteorites and to formulate models for the chemical makeup of bulk chondrites.
Yamato 691 enstatite chondrite was discovered in December 1969 – the same year the first Apollo lunar samples were returned to Earth.