By Nick Gilbert
ContentsIntroductionThe Discovery of PanguiteWhat is Panguite?Panguite Further Research
Minerals are vitally important to everyone in all walks of life. The human race simply could not survive and prosper without them - a fact that the majority of us do not really think about or appreciate. According to the U.S Bureau of Mines, the average person will consume over 40,000 lbs of minerals every year. Minerals are used everywhere, from the Designer Glasses you might wear on your face to the mobile phone in your hand, we all rely heavily on minerals. And if you really think about it, where would we be without them?
When we begin to consider just how important minerals are, it becomes incredibly exciting when the Materials Science world uncovers a new one!
The Discovery of Panguite
In 1969 a meteorite called Allende, entered the earth's atmosphere and tore across the sky as a fireball before breaking up into thousands of pieces, raining down on the Chihuahua state of Mexico. Over 40 years later, Scientists are still studying these amazing fragments of Galactic rock. The Allende meteorite not only holds a wealth of information about the formation of our Solar System and it's continuous evolution but it was recently discovered by Scientists at Caltec (The California Institute of Technology) that the Allende Meteorite contained much more than just interesting data.. It also contains a completely new Mineral - Panguite, believed to be one of the oldest Minerals ever formed in our Solar System, circa 4.5billion years old.
Panguite belongs to a class of refractory minerals, formed under extreme heat and pressure during the early development phase of our Solar System. Named after Pan Gu, a Giant from Ancient Chinese mythology who is said to have formed the Earth and sky by separating Yin and Yang.
The Allende Meteorite is the largest Carbonaceous Chondrite ever discovered on Earth, and since it's Impact in 1969, it has become one of the best and most intensely studied meteorites.
Panguite is one of a number of new minerals discovered within the Allende Meteorite by research and analysis carried out by Caltech headed up by Chi Ma, Senior Scientist and Director of the Geological and Planetary Sciences Division Analytical Facility in California. Since 2007 some notable new Minerals have been discovered and documented by Chi Ma's team including: allendeite, hexamolybdenum, tistarite, and kangite.
Panguite was discovered through the on-going Nanomineralogical analysis and scientific study of Primitive meteorites. Nanomineralogy looks at minuscule particles of minerals and the extremely tiny features hidden within those minerals.
"The intensive studies of objects in this meteorite have had a tremendous influence on current thinking about processes, timing, and chemistry in the primitive solar nebula and small planetary bodies," says coauthor George Rossman, the Eleanor and John R. McMillan Professor of Mineralogy at Caltech.
What is Panguite?
Even though nine new minerals have been discovered hidden within the fragments of the Allende meteorite, Panguite is particularly important because it is not only a new mineral but also a completely new material, previously unknown to science.
Image 1. Credit - Chi Ma / Caltech
Panguite is a Titanium Oxide Mineral Inclusion, trapped within a host mineral which formed part of the Allende meteorite during its formation. In this case it is believed that Panguite may have been trapped during the very early formations of our solar system. Therefore,scientists are able to make an assumption according to Hutton's law of inclusions, that the fragments trapped within a rock or mineral are in fact older than the mineral itself. Thus potentially making Panguite one of the oldest minerals ever found.
Panguite (Ti4+,Sc,Al,Mg,Zr,Ca)1.8O3 is a mixture of the following elements:
First observed under a scanning electron microscope in an ultra-refractory inclusion (Refractory Inclusions - among the first solid objects formed in our Solar System), Panguite is one of a class of refractory minerals, capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures and harsh environments, likely to have been formed from high-temperature liquids produced by the Solar Nebula.Thus making Panguite potentially older than the Earth and a number of other planets in our solar system.
According to Chi Ma, the on-going study of newly discovered refractory minerals are vital to help us learn more about the way they and ultimately our Solar Sstem may have been formed: ""Such investigations are essential to understand the origins of our solar system,"
Panguite Further Research
A paper outlining the discovery of and further research into Panguite is scheduled to be published in the July Issue of the Journal of American Mineralogist."Panguite, (Ti4+,Sc,Al,Mg,Zr,Ca)1.8O3, a new ultra-refractory titania mineral from the Allende meteorite: Synchrotron micro-diffraction and EBSD,"
Authors are: Chi Ma, Senior Scientist and Director of the Geological and Planetary Sciences Division Analytical Facility; John R. Beckett, senior research scientist at Caltech; George Rossman, the Eleanor and John R. McMillan Professor of Mineralogy at Caltec; Oliver Tschauner from the University of Nevada–Las Vegas; and Wenjun Liu from the Argonne National Laboratory. The study was supported through grants from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and NASA's Office of Space Science.
This article has been written using information from a range of sources including: