Mysterious 'Hypatia Stone' Is Like Nothing Else in Our Solar System

iStock
iStock

In 1996, Egyptian geologist Aly Barakat discovered a tiny, one-ounce stone in the eastern Sahara. Ever since, scientists have been trying to figure out where exactly the mysterious pebble originated. As Popular Mechanics reports, it probably wasn't anywhere near Earth. A new study in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta finds that the micro-compounds in the rock don't match anything we've ever found in our solar system.

Scientists have known for several years that the fragment, known as the Hypatia stone, was extraterrestrial in origin. But this new study finds that it's even weirder than we thought. Led by University of Johannesburg geologists, the research team performed mineral analyses on the microdiamond-studded rock that showed that it is made of matter that predates the existence of our Sun or any of the planets in the solar system. And, its chemical composition doesn't resemble anything we've found on Earth or in comets or meteorites we have studied.

Lead researcher Jan Kramers told Popular Mechanics that the rock was likely created in the early solar nebula, a giant cloud of homogenous interstellar dust from which the Sun and its planets formed. While some of the basic materials in the pebble are found on Earth—carbon, aluminum, iron, silicon—they exist in wildly different ratios than materials we've seen before. Researchers believe the rock's microscopic diamonds were created by the shock of the impact with Earth's atmosphere or crust.

"When Hypatia was first found to be extraterrestrial, it was a sensation, but these latest results are opening up even bigger questions about its origins," as study co-author Marco Andreoli said in a press release.

The study suggests the early solar nebula may not have been as homogenous as we thought. "If Hypatia itself is not presolar, [some of its chemical] features indicate that the solar nebula wasn't the same kind of dust everywhere—which starts tugging at the generally accepted view of the formation of our solar system," Kramer said.

The researchers plan to further probe the rock's origins, hopefully solving some of the puzzles this study has presented.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]

The Northern Lights Could Be Visible Over Parts of the U.S. This Week

iStock.com/Marc_Hilton
iStock.com/Marc_Hilton

Residents in the northern U.S. could be treated to a rare meteorological spectacle this week. As USA Today reports, the northern lights will likely be visible over certain states from May 15 to May 17, including Maine, Michigan, and Montana.

An aurora borealis, an event caused by solar particles colliding with atoms in Earth's atmosphere, is normally limited to countries at higher latitudes like Iceland. On rare occasions, increased activity from the Sun results in stronger and more widespread auroras on our planet.

Following a significant release of plasma and magnetic energy from the Sun's corona, the Space Weather Prediction Center announced a geomagnetic storm watch for this week. The Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are expected to reach Earth on Wednesday, May 15, and persist through Friday. During that time, the prediction center says the northern lights may appear over parts of the contiguous United States. Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and most of New England all fall within the projected aurora zone.

The solar storm will peak at a G2 (moderate) level on May 16—which makes Thursday night and Friday morning the best times to catch the light show. As is the case with stars and meteor showers, people in major cities will have trouble seeing the event. Their best bet is to find a high vantage point with little light pollution.

[h/t USA Today]

Mark Your Calendars: An Enormous Asteroid Will Fly Past Earth on April 13, 2029

An image of a different asteroid, called Lutetia
An image of a different asteroid, called Lutetia
ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team via Getty Images

An asteroid that’s roughly the size of three football fields is on track to whiz past Earth on April 13, 2029. Fortunately for us, it isn’t in danger of hitting our humble planet, according to Space.com.

The asteroid, which was discovered in 2004, is named Apophis after the Egyptian spirit of evil and destruction. Scientists previously suggested that there was a 2.7 percent chance of it striking Earth, but the odds were later reduced to “less than one in a million,” Don Yeomans, a retired planetary scientist for NASA, said in 2013.

Indeed, if it were ever to collide with Earth, “it would cause major damage to our planet and likely to our civilization as well,” according to a statement issued for the 2019 International Academy of Astronautics's Planetary Defense Conference [PDF].

On the bright side, the asteroid is expected to put on quite the show. Because it will come within 19,000 miles of Earth—which is pretty close by celestial standards—it will be visible to the naked eye. NASA says Apophis will soar over Australia before heading across the Indian Ocean, Africa, the Atlantic Ocean, and finally the United States. It will be visible in the eastern U.S. by mid-morning, but its closest approach will be just before 6 p.m. EDT. “By 7 p.m. EDT, the asteroid will have crossed over the United States,” NASA wrote in a statement.

Here’s what its path will look like:

Huge hunks of space rock hurtling toward Earth are not only great fodder for action-packed blockbuster films; they’re also a great way for scientists to learn more about these heavenly bodies. Although small asteroids measuring 5 to 10 meters across sometimes fly by Earth, it’s rare to get a close-up look at asteroids the size of Apophis.

“The Apophis close approach in 2029 will be an incredible opportunity for science,” Marina Brozović, a radar scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. “We’ll observe the asteroid with both optical and radar telescopes. With radar observations, we might be able to see surface details that are only a few meters in size.”

[h/t Space.com]

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