Discovered in the desert around thirty years ago, the Hypatia meteorite remains an enigma for researchers, and could be a key element in reconstructing the history of our solar system.
The Hypatia meteorite was discovered in the 1990s in the Sahara desert. Although experts confirm that this stone, measuring only a few centimeters in diameter, does indeed come from space, they believe it is the only one of its kind. It could shed light on our knowledge about the birth of the solar system.
Researchers in the University of Johannesburg (South Africa) have analysed the composition of the Hypatia meteorite in detail, as part of a study that appeared on the 15th February 2018 in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. The elements making up the stone were described as “exotic”, in that they no longer exist in our planet, or probably in our solar system!
Jan Kramers, the main author of the study, reminds us that before hitting the Earth, the meteorite would have measured several meters in diameter. The researcher presents a surprising image to explain the composition of Hypatia, describing it as “a poorly mixed fruit cake batter”, which would have fallen to earth and mixed with the soil.
The researchers’ goal was to sort and analyse the various components of the stone. In meteorites of this kind -which don’t contain much metal -researchers would generally expect to find small quantities of carbon and a lot of silicone.
In reality, scientists found polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, notably present in interstellar dust, pure aluminium (which is very rare), iodine phosphide as well as moissanite (the natural state of a material artificially produced by man for more than a century: silicone carbide).
The researchers estimate that the meteorite contains materials that existed before the creation of our solar system. However, this should be theoretically impossible, because according to current understanding, in order to form such small objects, interstellar dust would need to gather in a protosolar nebula. This would mean integrating a kind of disc of matter which would then form a star, whose residues would assemble to form planets and other bodies.
The researchers equally query whether the meteorite preceded our sun. If this is the case, it would mean that “the solar nebula was not composed of the same type of dust all over”. Whatever the case, the Hypatia meteorite continues to pose many questions -many more questions than answers in fact! But perhaps some day science will get to the bottom of it!