Analyses on a small pebble found in south-west Egypt cast significant questions on a widely-held view about the primitive pre-solar dust cloud which our Sun, Earth and other planets were formed from.
Prof Kramers and Dr Georgy Belyanin from the University of Johannesburg PPM Research Centre at the Department of Geology found exotic micro-mineral compounds in the ‘Hypatia’ stone that are not known to occur on Earth, elsewhere in our solar system, or in known meteorites or comets.
In 2013, Kramers and his co-authors announced that the Hypatia pebble found in south-west Egypt, was definitely not from Earth. By 2015, other research teams had announced that the stone was not part of any known types of meteorite or comet, based on noble gas and nuclear probe analyses.
However, if the pebble was not from Earth, what was its origin and could the minerals in it provide clues on where it came from? Micro-mineral analyses of the pebble by UJ’s Prof Kramers and Dr Belyanin have now provided unsettling answers that spiral away from conventional views of the material our solar system was formed from.
Into the future
“What we do know is that Hypatia was formed in a cold environment, probably at temperatures below that of liquid nitrogen on Earth (-196 Celsius). In our solar system it would have been way further out than the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where most meteorites come from. Comets come mainly from the Kuiper Belt, beyond the orbit of Neptune and about 40 times as far away from the sun as we are. Some come from the Oort Cloud, even further out. We know very little about the chemical compositions of space objects out there. So our next question will dig further into where Hypatia came from,” says Kramers.
Lead author of the study, Prof Jan Kramers from the University of Johannesburg (UJ), was recently recognised as a “Leading international researcher” (A-rated) by the National Research Foundation. Prof Kramers is a geochemist currently specialising in dating techniques (especially for hominin fossils) and analysis of extraterrestrial objects.