In 2008, an 80-ton asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere and exploded some 37 kilometers (23 miles) above Sudan’s Nubian Desert. It was estimated that the asteroid was around 4 meters (13 feet) in diameter when it hit our atmosphere and exploded into 600 smaller meteorites. These fragments only weighed around 10 kilograms (23 lb) altogether, but contained scores of tiny nanodiamonds which formed on impact with the atmosphere.
The asteroid’s official name is 2008 TC3, although it was later named Almahata Sitta. The impact marked the first time that meteorites were recovered from an asteroid which was tracked by astronomers prior to a collision with our planet. Researchers from the University of Khartoum in Sudan recovered many of the meteorites and nanodiamonds, providing an unprecedented glimpse into the life of asteroids and resulting meteorites. Scientists studying those nanodiamonds have just published the first study of these diamonds, and it turns out they might reveal a whole lot more than just the geological composition of space rocks. In fact, they might be evidence of an entire lost planet of our Solar System.
The research has been published in Nature. According to the article, this study marks “the first compelling evidence for such a large body that has since disappeared.” The authors note that due to the immense pressure required to form the types of nanodiamonds found in the Almahata Sitta meteorite, they were likely the result of an early planet in our solar system which is no longer in existence:
These diamonds contain inclusions that can only form above ~20 GPa, which can only be attained in a large planetary body.This study provides convincing evidence that the [meteorite] parent body was one such large “lost” planet before it was destroyed by collisions.
Several recent astronomical studies have claimed that irregularities in the orbits of our solar system’s planets and the anomalous tilt of the Sun could only be due to the existence of a hidden “Planet X.” Could these tiny diamonds prove such a planet actually used to exist? If so, what happened to it? Given the near-miss Earth just had with a sizeable, undetected asteroid, do we really want to know?