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Space & Astronomy

Alien chemistry of the Hypatia stone revealed

By T.K. Randall
January 10, 2018 · Comment icon 6 comments

Hypatia stone fragments. Image Credit: Dr Mario di Martino, INAF Osservatorio Astrofysico di Torino
The mysterious space rock contains micro-mineral compounds found nowhere else in the solar system.
Discovered in 1996 in south-west Egypt, the Hypatia stone is an undoubtedly unique specimen.

Its origin has remained a topic of debate for years, with scientists confirming that it has not come from any known comet or meteorite and that it certainly did not originate on our own planet.

Now a team of researchers from the University of Johannesburg have discovered minerals that seem to predate even the Sun, as well as a perplexing lack of silicate matter within the stone's carbonaceous matrix, setting it apart from any other interplanetary matter that has fallen to Earth.
"The matrix contains a high amount of very specific carbon compounds, called polyaromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH, a major component of interstellar dust, which existed even before our solar system was formed," said lead researcher Jan Kramers.

The stone has also been found to contain aluminium in its pure metallic form - something that is barely ever found within our solar system. Unexpected forms of silicon carbide and silver iodine phosphide were also found, as well as a compound containing phosphorus and nickel but no iron.

It challenges just about everything we know of planetary formation.

"When Hypatia was first found to be extraterrestrial, it was a sensation, but these latest results are opening up even bigger questions about its origins," said Dr Marco Andreoli.

Source: Science Daily | Comments (6)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by pallidin 6 years ago
Fascinating! Good read.
Comment icon #2 Posted by bison 6 years ago
The object has a very peculiar mineral composition, including elemental aluminum, not a compound, and a deficiency of silica. It appears that our ideas about the uniformity and contents of the nebula that formed our solar system are somewhat incorrect. Either that, or parts of this meteorite arrived from interstellar space.
Comment icon #3 Posted by keithisco 6 years ago
Elemental Aluminium does exist (very rarely) in the Earth's crust. It might be a stretch to say that it must be of interstellar origin because we are far from understanding all of the geologic forces and genesis of elements in our own Solar System. 
Comment icon #4 Posted by bison 6 years ago
Yes, proto-solar-system origin is a possibility, but then we should be seeing more elemental aluminum, and the other odd chemistry, both on Earth and in meteorites.  That's unless the nebula that created our solar system was oddly segregated chemically, which is contrary to what we thought we knew about it.   
Comment icon #5 Posted by Beetle 6 years ago
1) The Hypatia stone was discovered in 1966, not 2013. 2) Ponder this: Pure aluminum= spacecraft hull Silver iodine phosphide: used in making semiconductors Large amounts of carbon: life forms?   Hypothesis: Could be remnants of a crashed alien spaceship.    
Comment icon #6 Posted by bison 6 years ago
Welcome to the forum, Beetle!  Elemental aluminum is very rare in nature. It's limited to low oxygen environments, like certain volcanoes, and  cold seeps from the ocean floor. The conditions therein keep it from combining with oxygen. Could elemental aluminum have come  from the nebula that became our solar system? I don't know, but the sorts of places it was found on Earth don't seem likely to have existed in the nebula.  

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