A new quasicrystal coming from outer space surprised scientists with a chemical composition never previously observed. (“Collisions in outer space produced an icosahedral phase in the Khatyrka meteorite never observed previously in the laboratory” in Scientific Reports). The study is the output of an group of international researchers that includes Luca Bindi of the University's Department of Earth Sciences.
The new extraterrestrial mineral, the third one presently identified, was produced by collisions between space asteroids at the dawn of the solar system. Its discovery proves that such materials could be a lot more common than previously thought.
“Quasicrystals are unique minerals, reports Luca Bindi, associate professor of Mineralogy, and its atoms are set as if in a mosaic, in regular patterns, but that do not repeat themselves periodically such as in ordinary crystals.”
Up to now there were only two known natural quasicrystals (icosahedrite and decagonite) also identified by the research group led by Biondi. The first quasicrystal was identified in 2009 in a specimen of the Khatyrka meteorite, found in Siberia and held by the Museum of Natural History of the University of Florence.
Together with colleagues from Princeton University, the Smithsonian Institution and the Russian Academy of Sciences, Bindi and his team have returned to Siberia in 2011 where they collected further samples of the meteorite in which the other two quasicrystals have been identified.
“Whereas the first two crystals reflect the chemical equivalent of synthetic material discovered some years before thanks to the Nobel prize winner Dan Shechtman who had synthesized them in the 1980s, continues Bindi, the quasicrystal material found now is something that has not been foreseen by laboratory experiments and it shows how little we know of the formation mechanisms of such materials that take shape and remain stable in exceptional conditions and have innumerable technological applications”.