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Diamonds in a meteorite can be fragments of a lost planet



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Fragments of the 2008 TC3, or Almahata Sitta, meteorite that fell to Earth in 2008. The diamonds discovered in one of the fragments may have come from a protoplanet that orbited the sun billions of years ago [19659003] Kredit
Peter Jenniskens / SETI / NASA

In 2008, pieces of space rock crashed in the deserts of Sudan. Diamonds discovered in one of the recovered meteorites may have come from a ruined planet that orbited our sun billions of years ago, scientists said Tuesday. If confirmed, they say, it would be the first time anyone has found fragments of any of our so-called "lost" planets on our solar system.

"We have a piece of a former planet in our hands, which revolved around the planet Sun before the end of the formation of today's solar system," said Philippe Gillet, a planetary scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and author of the article published in Nature Communications.

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A transmission electron micrograph of a diamond extracted from the meteorite.

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Dr. F. Nabiei / Dr. E. Oveisi, EPFL, Switzerland

Dr. Gillet's colleague Farhang Nabiei made the discovery when he took high-resolution pictures of a meteorite that landed in the Nubian Desert in Sudan about ten years ago. The space rock is classified as ueilite, a type of rare meteorite, in which several different types of minerals are embedded.

And in this they found diamonds.

The nano-sized gems were much larger than any meteorite diamond previously found, according to Gillet. Upon further inspection, the team found that the diamonds were far from crystal clear. They were interspersed with tiny imperfections, called inclusions, consisting of chromite, phosphate, and iron-nickel sulphides.

These mistakes made the diamond extraordinary.

"For a jeweler, what is an imperfection becomes something that is very useful to me because it tells me the story of the diamond," Dr. Gillet. "It has a chemistry that has no equivalent in the solar system today with respect to planets," he said.

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Our solar system was born of chaos. About 4.5 billion years ago, the prevailing theory was that dozens of boulders and dust, called protoplanets, orbited our sun and collided like cosmic billiard balls. After all, the collisions have forged the rocky planets we know today – Mercury, Venus, Mars and, of course, the Earth. Some scientists suggest that our moon was made of debris spewed by such an impact between the Earth and a protoplanete called Theia.

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