A meteorite found in the Sahara Desert last year – specifically Adrar, Algeria – was actually part of a protoplanet (a rocky body in the process of forming into a planet) in our solar system and dates back before Earth was even formed. The piece of volcanic rock, which has been named Erg Chech 002 (or EC 002), is more than a million years older than the previous-oldest meteorite ever found.
According to the Lunar and Planetary Institute, the fragments of EC 002 were “relatively coarse grained, tan and beige” with some crystals that were “larger green, yellow-green and less commonly yellow-brown”.
It is composed of a rock called andesite that is pretty much only found in subduction zones here on Earth (locations where tectonic plates collided with each other that resulted with one of them going underneath the other). Interestingly, meteorites very rarely contain andesite and are mostly created by a different volcanic rock called basalt. Detailed analysis of the meteorite revealed that 4.566 billion years ago, it was molten before taking about 100,000 years to cool down and solidify. To put this into better perspective, Earth is 4.54 billion years old.
Based on the analysis of the meteorite, it is believed that it came from the crust of a very old baby planet that ended up either breaking apart or getting absorbed by a larger rocky world like Mars, Venus, Mercury, or even Earth when the solar system was in its early stages of formation.
These types of meteorites are exceptionally rare and researchers may never find another one like it or as old. “Remains of primordial andesitic crust are therefore not only rare in the meteorite record, but they are also rare today in the asteroid belt,” the scientists wrote in part.
Jean-Alix Barrat from the University of Western Brittany in France stated how exciting this discovery was, “I have been working on meteorites for more than 20 years now, and this is possibly the most fantastic new meteorite I have ever seen.”
More analysis needs to be conducted to know more about the meteorite and hopefully scientists will learn new information regarding how planets, including Earth, were formed. (A picture of the meteorite can be seen here.)
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences where it can be read in full.