Chunk Of Protoplanet Older Than Earth Discovered In Sahara Desert
Scientists believe that a meteorite, which dates back to before planet Earth had formed, had broken off from a protoplanet from the early solar system.
The rock, which was discovered in the Sahara Desert in spring last year, is the oldest piece of rock ever discovered, and could go a long way towards helping to understand the building blocks of planets.
Dubbed Erg Chech 002, or EC 002 for short, scientists led by Jean-Alix Barrit at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France quickly discovered that meteorite was different from those usually discovered on Earth.
‘EC 002 is clearly distinguishable from all asteroid groups, and no object with spectral characteristics similar to EC 002 has been identified to date,’ the study authors explained, adding that rock material is ‘not only rare in the meteorite record, but they are also rare today in the asteroid belt,’, MOTHERBOARD reports.
The researchers, who published their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, added:
This suggests that the earliest differentiated protoplanets that populated the solar system, as well as most of their debris, were certainly destroyed or subsequently accreted to the growing rocky planets, making the discovery of meteorites originating from primordial crusts an exceptional occurrence.
The majority of meteorites that land on our planet contain basalt, which forms after lava containing magnesium and iron cools down in the Earth’s atmosphere. However, EC 002 is made up of 58% silicon dioxide, suggesting it is rich in andesite, which is found on Earth in the areas where the tectonic plates collided with one another and formed layers.
This is significant because it suggests that the one molten rock solidified 4.565 billion years ago, while Earth is believed to have formed 4.543 billion years ago.
Prior to the discovery of EC 002, the oldest igneous meteorite ever found on Earth was NWA 11119, which is roughly 1.24 million years younger than EC 002.
Scientists will now study the meteorite in great detail, in a bid to gain more understanding on how planets like our formed and evolved over time.
‘This meteorite is the oldest magmatic rock analysed to date and sheds light on the formation of the primordial crusts that covered the oldest protoplanets,’ they wrote in the study,
It’s hoped that any further discoveries will help recreate the volatile environment of the early system, in order to fully comprehend what it was like.
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