Researchers have recently discovered an entirely unique type of naturally-existing material called the quasicrystal.
Published in Scientific Reports announced that a bonafide quasicrystal has indeed been discovered within the grainy remains of a meteorite found in the Khatyrka region of the Russian far east, five years ago. The paper marks the first time that a type of quasicrystal has been identified in nature before it was created artificially in a lab.
The structure of the quasicrystal never quite repeats itself and can have an infinite number of symmetries. It was thought to be impossible for a crystal-like mineral to take such a structure, but artificial quasicrystals have been manufactured in the laboratory. Materials scientist Dan Shechtman won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2011 for his discovery of quasicrystals in the lab.
Quasicrystals are only formed under certain conditions. The Khatyrka meteorite is known to have undergone extreme conditions as a result of an impact in space. It probably hit another object in space, generating temperatures of more than 1,200C and extremely high pressures.
The meteorite was discovered in Siberia in 2011. It was found on the bank of a small stream in the Koryak Mountains in Russia’s easternmost region. A total of 10 fragments of the meteorite have been found, measuring just 1-2mm each.
The quasicrystals themselves all measure about 50 microns in size, about the width of a human hair.
The new quasicrystal, made of aluminium, copper and iron, has a complex shape with five-fold symmetry. It is the first quasicrystal whose structure had not been synthesised in the laboratory before its discovery in nature.
The Khatyrka meteorite also contains a mineral known as icosahedrite, which has the same 60-point rotational symmetry as the quasicrystal.