A close-up of the fossilized lightning, or fulgurite, that contained the prospective new mineral. (Image credit: Bindi et al. 2023, (CC BY four.))
A potentially brand new mineral might have been hiding inside a chunk of “fossilized lightning” from Florida, scientists have revealed.
“We have in no way observed this material take place naturally on Earth,” Mathew Pasek (opens in new tab), a geoscientist at the University of South Florida, stated in a statement (opens in new tab). “Minerals comparable to it can be identified in meteorites and space, but we’ve in no way observed this precise material anyplace.”
The fossilized lightning chunk, or fulgurite, was developed when lightning struck a tree close to New Port Richey. Fulgurites kind when effective lightning bolts discharge by way of the ground, which melts and fuses any nearby soil, sand, rock and organic debris into a singular metallic-searching lump.
The owner of the New Port Richey tree sold the fulgurite to Pasek, who research higher-power chemical reactions like these triggered by lightning. Immediately after cracking open the rocky lump, which was about two.eight inches (7 cenitmeters) extended and .eight inches (two cm) wide, Pasek and fellow researchers found a “colorful, crystal-like matter” inside the fulgurite. Subsequent evaluation revealed that the mysterious matter was a previously unknown material consisting mostly of calcium phosphate (CaHPO3). The group strongly suspects that the new material is a brand-new mineral variety, but it will take time for this to be confirmed by other scientists.
The researchers published their findings March 14 in the journal Communications Earth & Atmosphere (opens in new tab).
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An electron microscope image of the fulgurite. The prospective new mineral seems dark grey and is peppered with tiny metallic chunks. (Image credit: Bindi et al. 2023, (CC BY four.))
Throughout their evaluation, the researchers also attempted, and failed, to recreate the mineral in a lab. The scientists think they failed to recreate the new material simply because it quickly types below precise circumstances that are challenging to predict and replicate: Each time they got close, the compound would start off to break down into some thing else simply because it had been heated for also extended.
The researchers hope that this kind of calcium phosphate can quickly be confirmed as a new mineral, at which point it will be officially named. They also think that other brand-new mineral kinds could be developed by way of a comparable pathway and want to examine additional fulgurites to test this theory.
This is not the initially time that an unexpected compound has been found in fossilized lightning. In December 2022, researchers identified a uncommon variety of quasicrystal in a fulgurite unearthed in Nebraska’s Sandhills. (Quasicrystals are uncommon, “rule-breaking” crystals with patterns that do not repeat.)