Never-before-seen minerals discovered in Somalian meteorite
They’re called “elaliite” and “elkinstantonite,” and geologists have never seen them form naturally on Earth
By TROY FARAH
PUBLISHED DECEMBER 1, 2022 3:00PM (EST)
A slice of the El Ali meteorite (Courtesy of University of Alberta Meteorite Collection)
El Ali is a small village in Somalia’s Hiiraan region, with a population under 200,000, but a long time ago it received a new visitor from space. Local camel herders have known about the large chunk of (mostly) iron, which they call “Nightfall,” for between five to seven generations. The El Ali meteorite has been “memorialized through Saar folklore, songs, dances and poems,” according to a report in the Meteoritical Bulletin Database. They even used the rock as an anvil to sharpen their knives.
In September 2019, artisanal miners were hunting for opal in El Ali, as the desert region is rich in the popular gemstone. When they learned of the El Ali stone, they immediately recognized it as a meteorite and collected a sample. The prospectors, from the Kureym Mining and Rocks Company, sent a single 70 gram slice to Chris Herd, a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and curator of the University of Alberta’s Meteorite Collection.
After the specimen was polished and etched, it revealed an unmistakeable Widmanstätten pattern, which is a key indicator that this rock originated off-world. When he dissolved and analyzed the sample, Herd discovered two minerals that have never previously been found on Earth before. He dubbed them elaliite and elkinstantonite.
The first is named for El Ali, the region where the meteorite was found, while the latter is named for Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist, professor at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and principal investigator of NASA’s upcoming Psyche mission, which is slated to explore the metallic asteroid 16 Psyche in 2029.