Rare Diamonds From A Long-Lost Planet Found In The Almahata Sitta Meteorites

An artist's illustration of a protoplanet

A meteorite which crashed to Earth a decade ago has now been discovered to be part of the early solar system. But researchers have discovered that one particular meteorite recovered from the Sudanese desert in 2008 is unique. They determined materials like this could have only formed at pressures around 200,000 bar (2.9 million psi), something that could have only existed deep within a planet, one which would have been at least as big as Mercury or even Mars. Because diamonds are forged at enormous pressures and temperatures, typically deep inside the planet, the various materials that get trapped inside are quite hard to get a hold of at the surface - and diamonds can preserve them for billions of years. The diamonds with the Almahata Sitta meteorite formed during a transition era in the solar system, when the dust and gas that swirled around the sun coalesced into planetary embryos, then grew into planets.

The meteorites from the collision fall into a category of space rocks called ureilites, which represent less than 1 percent of objects that collide with Earth.

The team led by Farhang Nabiei of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland was initially investigating the relationship between the diamonds and the layers of graphite surrounding them, when they realized the small pockets of material trapped inside looked far more interesting. The study shows that the parent body from which the meteorite came was a planetary embryo of a size between Mercury to Mars. He plans to seek out similar meteorites and search them for inclusions that might provide clues about their origins. It turned out to be a rare type of meteorite called ureilite, which has an unusual composition compared to other stony meteorites - it contains a lot of carbon in the form of nanodiamonds.

Nearly a decade ago, a meteorite entered the atmosphere of the Earth, where it exploded and got scattered in the Nubian desert of Sudan.

Now, a new study published in the journal Nature Communications supports that idea.

Several theories and planetary models have suggested that during the first few million years of solar system's chaotic formation, many infant planets existed, said a release from EPFL, Switzerland, one of the institutes involved in the analysis of the fragments.

According to the researchers, they said that all the ureilite asteroids are the remains of the same proto-planet.

The mystery planet doesn't have a name, but the researchers said it was "lost" when it was "destroyed by collisions some 4.5 billion years ago".

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