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wedderburn meteorite

Researchers confirm existence of mineral in meteorite never found before in nature

An exclusive mineral has been discovered roadside in a remote gold rush town of Australia, Wedderburn which is 214 kilometers north of Victoria’s capital city, Melbourne. Earlier, it was a hotspot for the researchers and miners and it still is, although occasionally but nobody there had ever seen a lump like this.

A small 210-gram piece of weird-looking stone was found just north-east of the Wedderburn town in 1951. Named as the Wedderburn, researchers have been trying to solve its mysteries and they just decoded another. Scientists examined the Wedderburn meteorite and confirmed the first natural occurrence of the mineral called ‘edscottite‘ which is a unique form of an iron-carbide mineral which has never been found in nature. The work appears in the American Mineralogist journal.

The unique black-and-red rock has been investigated to the extent that only one-third of the original specimen remains intact within the geological collection at Museums Victoria, Australia since the Wedderburn meteorite’s spacey origins were first detected. The rest of the rock was taken away to investigate the substances the meteorite is made of. Those investigations have shown traces of gold and iron, along with uncommon minerals such as kamacite, schreibersite, taenite, and troilite and now edscottite can be added to the list.

The discovery is named in honor of Edward Scott – meteorite expert and cosmochemist from the University of Hawaii. It is important because this specific atomic formulation of iron carbide mineral was never before confirmed to occur naturally. For official recognition by the International Mineralogical Association (IMA), this confirmation is important as it is an essential requirement for minerals.

An artificial kind of the iron carbide mineral produced during iron smelting has been well-known about for years. Edscottite is now an official element of the exclusive IMA’s mineral club and it is due to the research by Chi Ma and UCLA geophysicist Alan Rubin. Stuart Mills, Museums Victoria senior curator of geosciences who wasn’t engaged with the new study, said that they have discovered 500,000 to 600,000 minerals in the research lab out of which only 6,000 were identified as naturally occurring minerals.

In regard to how this sliver of natural edscottite was found outside of rural Wedderburn is not yet clear but the mineral could have formed in the heated, pressurized core of an ancient planet according to planetary scientist Geoffrey Bonning from Australian National University, who wasn’t involved with the study. Bonning said that some kind of colossal cosmic collision could have occurred a long time ago involving this unfortunate edscottite-producing planet and another planet, or a moon, or an asteroid and been exploded apart, with the fragmented parts of this wrecked world being hurled across time and space. It is believed that one such part landed just outside Wedderburn after millions of years which has enriched our knowledge of the Universe.

Research Paper: Edscottite, Fe5C2, a new iron carbide mineral from the Ni-rich Wedderburn IAB iron meteorite

Earth’s Magnetic Field Reversal Took Three Times Longer Than Thought

Earth’s magnetic field reversal takes much longer time than we thought

Human beings could not record the last time reversal of the magnetic poles of Earth occurred. However now with the help of the flow of ancient lava, it is possible for the scientists to estimate the duration of this phenomenon. 

A group of scientists used volcanic records for studying the last magnetic field reversal that occurred almost 780,000 years ago. They found that this reversal might have taken much longer duration than what was expected by scientists previously. The paper has been published in Science Advances journal

In the last 2.5 million years, the magnetic field of Earth reversed dozens of times, when north turned to the south and vice versa. It is known to the scientists that the last reversal occurred in the time of Stone Age but they have fewer details about the duration of the reversal and when it might occur next. 

Scientists relied on the lava flow sequences which erupted near to the last reversal for estimating its duration. With the help of this method, scientists estimated that it went on for 22000 years which is indeed quite longer than the past estimates of 1000 to 10000 years. 

Bradley Singer, a geoscience professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the study’s lead author said the last reversal was quite complex which started within the outer core of the Earth. When he was performing studies on a Chilean volcano in 1993, he stumbled on a sequence of the lava which had partially recorded the process of reversal. In an effort to date the lava, Singer observed weird magnetic field directions in the lava flow sequences. These are some of the rarest records and Singer is one of the few scientists to date them. So this incident led to his life-long career goal to understand and explain the timings of the reversals of the magnetic field. 

Reversals occur when the iron molecules in the outer spinning core of the Earth start to move in the opposite direction as the surrounding iron molecules around them. With an increase in numbers, the magnetic field present in the core of the Earth is offset by the molecules. As a result, the magnetic field of our planet gets weaker. John Tarduno, a geophysics professor at the University of Rochester said that this kind of duration of the reversal would weaken the protection of Earth from solar radiations.

Additional effects might include genetic mutations or extinctions when the exposure to UV Sunrays increases. Increasing Sun particles entering Earth would disrupt communication systems, GPS and other satellite-based communication. 

Reports of a magnetic field in direction of Canadian Arctic to Siberia has started discussions over if the next field reversal is imminent and what effect would it have on life. Singer said that there is very less evidence that the decrease in field strength or shifting in the north pole’s position would mean a reversal in polarity in the coming 2000 years. Volcanic records are the best type of records of a particular place and time. 

Journal Reference: Science Advances journal