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Exotic proto-mineral 'panguite' from before the planets found in meteor

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Boffins have discovered a primitive mineral in an ancient meteorite that pre-dates the formation of planets.

The Allende meteorite's fireball tore through the atmosphere over Mexico in 1969, exploding thousands of pieces of itself across the state of Chihuahua, but it's just recently that Caltech scientists found a new mineral they think could be one of the oldest in the solar system.

The mineral, a titanium oxide, has been named panguite after the mythical Chinese giant Pan Gu who created the world by separating yin from yang with an axe, making the earth and the sky in the process.

Allende is the largest carbonaceous chondrite meteorite ever found on our planet and eight other new minerals have also been found in the space rock in an ongoing nanomineralogy study.

"The intensive studies of objects in this meteorite have had a tremendous influence on current thinking about processes, timing, and chemistry in the primitive solar nebula and small planetary bodies," said George Rossman, professor of mineralogy at Caltech and co-author of the study.

Inclusions are the minerals that get trapped inside meteorites as they are forming. U ultra-refractory type includes minerals that can resist high temperatures and other conditions in extreme environments, such as those thought to exist as our solar system was forming.

Panguite was first seen in an "ultra-refractory inclusion" – one of the first solid objects in our solar system – embedded in the meteorite. Inclusions are the minerals trapped inside meteorites, while ultra-refractory refers to minerals that can only have formed under the extreme temperatures and conditions present in the first stages of the solar system.

Because the mineral pre-dates the formation of the Earth and other planets, it can tell boffins more about how they were made.

The study will be published in the July issue of the journal American Mineralogist. ®

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