The Hypatia stone is only a few centimeters across, broken into pebble fragments, but it may very well be the most interesting rock in the world.
Named for Hypatia of Alexandria, the first prominent Western woman astronomer and mathematician, the colorful rock was found in 1996 in western Egypt by Aly Barakat, a geologist working for the Egyptian Geological Survey. Barakat was studying Libyan desert glass, which appears to be similar to sea glass from the ocean, except geologists believe it might have formed roughly 28 million years ago in a meteorite impact.
Barakat - Significance - Stone - Microscopic - Diamonds
Barakat immediately recognized the unique significance of the glossy stone, lined with microscopic diamonds, and he suspected that it did not come from Earth. In 2013, geologists studying the Hypatia stone confirmed the rock was of extraterrestrial origin. Unlike any known meteorite, researchers originally believed the Hypatia stone was the first sample of a comet nucleus.
But it seems the space rock has a much more interesting past. A new study led by geologists at the University of Johannesburg found that compounds in the Hypatia stone are distinct from anything discovered in the solar system. The researchers therefore conclude that parts of the rock formed before the solar system, and if these compounds are not presolar, the prevailing idea that the solar system formed from a nebula of homogenous gas is called into question.
Compounds - Hydrocarbons - Silicon - Carbide - Phosphide
"We think that many compounds (polyaromatic hydrocarbons, silicon carbide, nickel phosphide compound, native metal inclusions) are presolar," Jan Kramers, a geochemistry professor at the University of Johannesburg who has studied the Hypatia stone for years, told Popular Mechanics in an email. "The assembly probably occurred in the early solar nebula."
Kramers, who led the 2013 study that identified the Hypatia stone as extraterrestrial, describes the rock's structure as similar to a fruit cake that has fallen into a...
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