A rock sample from the mineral collection of the Museo di Storia Naturale in Florence previously unearthed in the Koryak Mountains in Russia. © P Steinhardt

Not quite an alien invasion of cinematic proportions, but pretty cool none the less. As hinted at in my feature last year, Paul Steinhardt has shown that the only natural example of a quasicrystal ever discovered comes from space.

In 2009 Steinhardt was part of a team that looked through sample after sample for a natural example of a quasicrystal before finding one in a rock from north-eastern Russia. However, as Steinhardt told me last year, the discovery was not universally believed. That led to the theoretical physicist kitting up and heading into the field to try and find more examples. But as well as looking at other rocks (which aren’t discussed in this paper), Steinhardt’s also been looking more closely at the original and, to date, only rock containing a natural quasicrystal. And his findings? They come from space.

The isotopic ratios of oxygen around the quasicrystal grain are typical of carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, suggesting that while the first quasicrystal was identified in 1982, the first quasicrystal was made around 4.5 million years before. This makes the mineral one of the earliest around. Pretty cool.

The work is published in PNAS, 2012, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1111115109 and is open access.

Laura Howes

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