Massive Meteorite Fragment Unearthed in Argentina

We often think of space as something that happens Way Out There, but our planet is in and of the cosmos—and vice versa. The Moon, for one, was once a part of the rock we call home, and chunks of interstellar metal stud the globe. Now scientists in Argentina may have found one of the biggest chunks yet: a 34-ton meteorite fragment nicknamed "Gancedo."

About 4000 to 5000 years ago, a meteor shower peppered the soil in the region that would become South America. Most of the action happened over a region northwest of Buenos Aires called Campo del Cielo ("Field of Sky"). The field was left pockmarked with craters, which have yielded more than 100 tons of space debris (some of which has a tendency to walk away). The largest lump ever found in the field is a whopper named El Chaco, which was said to weigh in at more than 40 tons when it was first discovered in 1980. Newer estimates have slimmed El Chaco down substantially, putting it at just under 35 tons.

Its challenger, the 34-ton Gancedo, was discovered on the border of the Chaco province. Scientists knew they’d found something good, but had no idea just how big Gancedo would be until it had been completely dug out.

Mario Vesconi is president of the Astronomy Association of Chaco. “While we hoped for weights above what had been registered, we did not expect it to exceed 30 [metric] tons,” he told Argentinian newspaper Clarín. “The size and weight surprised us.”

Immense as both Argentinean fragments may be, they’re still vying for a silver medal. The title of Largest Meteorite rests comfortably with a 66-ton Namibian giant called Hoba, discovered in 1920.

Gancedo’s journey into posterity is just beginning. "We will weigh it again,” Vesconi told Télam. "Apart from wanting the added confidence of a double-check of the initial readings we took, the fact that its weight is such a surprise to us makes us want to recalibrate."

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Courtesy of Gem Diamonds Ltd.
This Just In
Fifth Largest Diamond in The World Discovered in Southern Africa
Courtesy of Gem Diamonds Ltd.
Courtesy of Gem Diamonds Ltd.

The Letšeng diamond mine in the southern African nation of Lesotho is known for producing large, high-quality gems. As Bloomberg reports, a massive diamond uncovered there recently is the mine's most impressive yet. The 910-carat stone is roughly the size of two golf balls and weighs more than a billiard ball.

The diamond is thought to be the fifth largest ever discovered on Earth. Gem Diamonds Ltd., the company behind the discovery, said in a statement [PDF] that the "exceptional top quality diamond is the largest to be mined to date and highlights the unsurpassed quality of the Letšeng mine."

Beyond its size, the diamond is also remarkable for its purity. The D color Type IIa status means there are little to no nitrogen atoms muddying its color. Though Gem Diamonds hasn't revealed their price, the diamond is likely worth a huge amount: up to $40 million, analyst Ben Davis tells Bloomberg.

That's a steep price, but it's nowhere near the highest ever paid for a diamond at auction. Rare colored diamonds tend to fetch the highest bids: In 2015, the Blue Moon diamond sold for $48.5 million, and in 2017 the Pink Star was auctioned off for $71.2 million, making it the most expensive diamond of all time.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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

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]


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