University of Johannesburg researchers Jan Kramers and Dr Georgy Belyanin have found "exotic micromineral compounds" in a rock fragment known as "the Hypatia stone" that are not known to occur on Earth, elsewhere in the solar system, or in any known meteorites or comets.
The two geology experts might just have sparked a rethink among scientists that could require them to adjust the current most-plausible model explaining how the solar system was formed.
In 2013, the UJ researchers announced that the Hypatia pebble found in southwest Egypt was "definitely not from Earth". By 2015, other research teams announced that the stone's chemistry was not like any known types of meteorite or comet, based on noble-gas and nuclear-probe analyses.
Based on the absence of silicate minerals in the stone and the exotic mineral inclusions with crystalline structures never before seen, two hypotheses have been suggested for further investigation:
- either Hypatia is the surviving fragment of a meteor that existed before our solar system was formed and was only captured by Earth's gravity millions of years later, to burn up almost completely when it fell as a meteorite, or
- the meteor was formed at the same time as the solar system from the same cosmic dust cloud, but that dust cloud did not contain the same uniform spread of minerals and elements that the current model proposes.
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"What we do know, is that Hypatia was formed in a cold environment, probably at temperatures below that of liquid nitrogen on Earth (-196º Celsius). In our solar system, it would have been way further out than the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where most meteorites come from.
"Comets come mainly from the Kuiper Belt, beyond the orbit of Neptune and about 40 times as far away from the sun as we are. Some come from the Oort Cloud even further out. We know very little about the chemical compositions of space objects out there," the researchers said.