Strange Crystals Reveal Rock to be Ancient Meteorite

A rock made of a type of crystal never before seen outside a laboratory is most likely a meteorite from the early days of the solar system, geologists say.

Two years after identifying the Russian rock’s unusual composition, a team of scientists thinks it has nailed down its origin. The researchers say it is a quasicrystal formed under conditions far more likely in space than inside the Earth, and that its chemical composition of metallic copper and aluminum resembles what is found in so-called carbonaceous chondrites – the primitive meteorites that scientists think were remnants shed from the original building blocks of planets.

Crystals are symmetrical, neatly ordered patterns of atoms that repeat themselves regularly. They are found commonly in nature in different types of rock.

Thirty years ago, through experiments changing the structure of crystals, laboratories began producing quasicrystals, a strange arrangement of atoms that repeats with two different frequencies rather than one. Rather than a simple ratio of, say, 2:1, the ratio of atoms in a quasicrystal is based on an irrational number, such as the square root of 2:1. (This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry honored Dan Shechtman for his 1982 discovery of quasicrystals.)

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