Meteorite from birth of solar system to go on display

An extremely rare meteorite that has the same make-up as the
primordial solar system goes on public display for the first time on Friday at
the Natural History Museum in London.
The Ivuna meteorite landed in Tanzania in 1938 and has since
been broken up into samples, the rest of which remain in the hands of private
collectors. The Natural History Museum bought the largest lump in 2008 from a
private enthusiast in the US.
The black, satsuma-sized space rock dates back to the birth
of the solar system some 4.6bn years ago, before the Earth had formed. It is
one of only five in the world with a ratio of chemical elements that, save for
hydrogen and helium, almost exactly matches that of the sun.
The meteorite is a carbonaceous chondrite and has a lot of
water locked up in its minerals. Up to a fifth of the rock’s weight is bound
water, with other constituents being organic compounds that are considered the
building blocks of life.
Meteorites like the Ivuna rock may have brought water and
vital compounds for life on Earth when they slammed into the surface of the
fledgling planet billions of years ago.
Ashley King, a postdoctoral researcher at the Natural
History Museum in London, said: “These meteorites are a unique record of
conditions that existed at the time over 4.5 billion years ago, before the
Earth had formed. They are the primordial building blocks of our Solar System.”
When carbonaceous chondrites reach the Earth, they start to
react in the air. But the museum’s Ivuna sample has been stored in a case in
pure nitrogen for most of its life to preserve the pristine material.

Researchers at the Natural History Museum believe that
studying the meteorite might give them a more accurate record of the sun’s
composition than measuring the sun’s surface itself.
“Ivuna is actively used in our research, and it is fantastic
to be able to show visitors a unique specimen that is older than Earth itself,”
said King. The speciment will go on display at the museum’s free after-hours
event, Science Uncovered, on 25 September.
Sara Russell, head of mineral and planetary sciences at the
museum, said the Ivuna meteorite had recently been used to cast doubt on claims
that the orbiting XMM-Newton observatory had seen dark matter streaming from a
distant cluster of galaxies.
“It highlights that we need to learn more about our own
galactic back yard. By studying the solar system we can learn abut how matter
behaves in distant galaxies. At the Natural History Museum, we are using
meteorites such as Ivuna, which dates from a time before planets existed, to
understand the composition of primordial material at that time,” she said.

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Posted on September 23, 2015, in Useful Information. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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