These diamonds from space formed inside a long-lost planet, scientists say

An illustration of the early solar system when the planet body of the Almahata Sitta meteorite may have existed

But researchers have discovered that one particular meteorite recovered from the Sudanese desert in 2008 is unique. Over time, the fragments were gathered and catalogued for study into a collection named Almahata Sitta (Arabic for "Station Six", after a nearby train station between Wadi Halfa and Khartoum). An astronomer tracked the meteorite before it entered Earth's atmosphere, enlisting other sky watchers to help keep tabs on it.

These meteorites were formed during the explosion of the asteroid TC3 at an altitude of about 50 kilometers from the earth and fell in the Nubian desert in Northern Sudan in October 2008.

As Ian Sample at The Guardian reports, two things immediately stood out about the space rock.

Next, the researchers turned their attention to what are known as chemical inclusions inside the diamonds.

These are the same elements that diamonds found on Earth are typically made of. Although scientists have long hypothesised about the existence of these early planets, the diamonds provide the first physical evidence of their theory.

Now, a new study published in the journal Nature Communications supports that idea.

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To create these conditions, Nabiei said, the meteorite's parent body would have to have been a planet at least as big as Mercury and possibly as large as Mars. "And indeed, they did".

The particular composition and morphology of these materials can only be explained if the pressure under which the diamonds were formed was higher than 20 GPa (giga-Pascals, the unit of pressure), according to the researchers.

What they theorize is that the protoplanet these pieces ultimately came from likely collided with others in that first 10 million years, causing Almahata Sitta - and others - to float about the solar system until they, too, collided with another planetary body; in this case, Earth. Eventually those bodies collided and flung material out into space.

"Shock waves produce very tiny diamonds", said Paul Asimow, a geochemist at Caltech who was not involved in the new work.

"What we're claiming here is that we have in our hands a remnant of this first generation of planets that are missing today because they were destroyed or incorporated in a bigger planet", Philippe Gillet, one of the co-authors of the work, told the Associated Press. The arrival of this meteorite actually happened all the way back in 2008, but the study revealing its contents only arrived just this week.

Studying the chemical contents inside the diamonds, the scientists concluded that they were captured by the diamonds during an extremely high-pressure phase that could be found only in a planetary body between the size of Mercury and Mars.

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