The stone, called lonsdaleite, has a hardness and strength that exceeds that of an ordinary diamond. The rare mineral arrived here via a meteorite, new research has suggested.
The revelation began to unfold when geologist Andy Tomkins, a professor at Australia’s Monash University, was classifying meteorites. A rare “bent” type of diamond was found in a space rock in northwest Africa, said study author Alan Salek, a PhD student and researcher at Australia’s RMIT University.
Tomkins theorized that the meteorite holding the lonsdaleite came from the mantle of a dwarf planet that was around 4.5 billion years old.
“Then the dwarf planet was catastrophically hit by an asteroid, releasing the pressure and creating these really weird diamonds,” he added.
With its cutting-edge methods and possibilities for the future, it’s an exciting discovery, said Paul Asimow, a professor of geology and geochemistry at the California Institute of Technology. Asimow was not involved in the research.
“It really takes advantage of the latest developments in microscopy to do what they’ve done so well,” Asimow said.
The team was able to study the meteorite with the help of advanced electron microscopy and synchrotron techniques, building maps of the space object’s components, including lonsdaleite, diamond and graphite, according to the study.
Diamonds and lonsdaleite can be formed in three ways. It can be through high pressure and temperature for a long time, and this is how diamonds are created on the surface of the Earth; the impact of a hypervelocity impact from a meteor; or releasing vapor from broken graphite, which would attach to a small piece of diamond and build on top of it, Asimow said.
The method by which the mineral is created can affect its size, he added. The researchers proposed in this study that the third method they found made up the larger sample.
“Nature has therefore provided us with a process to replicate in industry,” Tomkins said in a news release. “We believe that lonsdaleite could be used to make tiny, very hard machine parts if we can develop an industrial process that promotes the replacement of preformed graphite parts with lonsdaleite.”
What exactly is it?
Long before this discovery, scientists have debated the existence of lonsdaleite, Asimow said.
“It seems like a strange claim that we have a name for something, and we all agree on what it is,” he added, “and yet there are claims in the community that it’s not a real mineral, it’s not a real crystal, and we all agree on that. A macroscopic scale. that you can have it.’
Scientists first identified fragments of the mineral in 1967, but they were minute: about 1-2 nanometers, which is 1,000 times smaller than what was found in the last discovery, Salek said.
The discovery of a larger sample showed that lonsdaleite is not just an anomaly in other diamonds, Asimow said.
Regular diamonds, like the ones you see in fine jewelry, are made of carbon and have a cubic atomic structure, Salek said. Since it is the hardest material known to date, they are also used in manufacturing.
Lonsdaleite is also made of carbon, but it has an unusual hexagonal structure, he added.
Researchers have previously come up with models for the structure of lonsdaleite, and Salek theorized that the hexagonal structure could make it 58% harder than ordinary diamond. This hardness could make the rare space diamond a valuable resource for industrial applications if scientists can find a way to use the new production method to create minerals large enough.
What does it mean for us?
As scientists are familiar with this mineral, it raises the question of whether they can replicate the findings.
Tools like saw boards, drills and mining sites need to be tough and wear-resistant, so having a ready supply of lonsdaleite can work even better, Sal said. And now, with a plausible scientific theory of how the larger deposits formed, there’s a rough plan to make lonsdaleite in a lab.
From this discovery, we can also learn more about the interactions of the universe, said Phil Sutton, senior professor of astrophysics at the University of Lincoln in the UK. Sutton was not involved in the investigation.
In order to understand where we came from and how we evolved, it is important to know that materials were exchanged between environments, even within solar systems.
Scientists named lonsdaleite after the crystallographer Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, who in 1945 was one of the first women to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.