Compounds in Egypt's Hypatia stone predate Sun, study suggests
Called the Hypatia stone after Western civilization's first woman astronomer and mathematician, Hypatia of Alexandria, the space rock was initially discovered in 1996 in Egypt's Libyan Desert Glass Fields.

Delila James | Apr 19, 2018

A new study finds that a small colorful stone broken into pebble fragments some 28 million years ago contains compounds not seen anywhere else in the solar system.

Called the Hypatia stone after Western civilization's first woman astronomer and mathematician, Hypatia of Alexandria, the space rock was initially discovered in 1996 in Egypt's Libyan Desert Glass Fields. Then, in 2013, geologists identified the stone as having an extraterrestrial origin.

The new study, published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, not only confirms Hypatia's other-worldly origin, but shows it has a peculiar chemical composition and lacks silicate minerals -- characteristics that set it apart from other known materials.

"If it were possible to grind up the entire planet Earth to dust in a huge mortar and pestle, we would get dust with on average a similar chemical composition as chondritic meteorites," says lead author Jan D. Kramers from the University of Johannesburg, in a statement. "In chondritic meteorites, we expect to see a small amount of carbon (C) and a good amount of silicon (Si). But Hypatia's mix has a massive amount of carbon and an unusually small amount of silicon."

The team thinks many of the unusual compounds existed before the solar system formed, but this challenges current views on how that celestial event occurred.

"There are no silicate minerals in Hypatia's matrix, in contrast to chondritic meteorites (and planets like the Earth, Mars and Venus), where silicates are dominant," says Kramers. "Then there are the exotic mineral inclusions. If Hypatia itself is not presolar, both features indicate that the solar nebula wasn't the same kind of dust everywhere which starts tugging at the generally accepted view of the formation of our solar system."

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