Aside from providing us with excellent light shows upon their explosive entry into our atmosphere, meteorites are a wealth of geological knowledge about our solar system. These flying bits of space rocks are beginning to reveal just how little we actually know about the universe and the nature of everything within it. To add more mystery to our conception about the physical properties of matter, a recent discovery of a bizarre crystal found within a Russian meteorite is showing that structures we once thought impossible are actually found to naturally occur.
The crystal is what’s known as a quasicrystal, a rare type of crystal which defies physical laws thought to dictate the arrangement of atoms in solid structures. Quasicrystals are sometimes called “chaos crystals” because unlike other crystals and most matter, their physical atomic structure displays no regularly-occurring symmetry.
This new quasicrystal, composed of copper, iron, and aluminum, is only the third to ever be discovered in nature, and the first quasicrystal to be discovered in nature before being first synthesized in a lab. Interestingly, all three specimens of naturally-occurring quasicrystals were found in the same meteorite which landed in the remote village of Khatyrka in the icy reaches of eastern Siberia.
According to Princeton University physicist Paul Reinhardt, who co-authored the published study of this new chaos crystal, the meteorite was likely formed during the same time our own solar system was born:
The Khatyrka meteorite definitely contains parts that date back more than 4.5 billion years to the beginning of the solar system. [...] the new one being reported here is probably made as a result of a high velocity collision that our meteorite encountered 300 million years ago while it was still in space. We estimate it landed on the Earth less than 20,000 years ago.
It’s been an interesting year for research on crystals. Researchers recently were able to synthesize so-called “time crystals” which display four-dimensional asymmetry. That is, they change structure over time. As more research delves into these mysterious physical structures, we’re beginning to understand that crystals could shed light on some of the higher mysteries of our physical reality. Maybe those hippies are onto something after all.