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New Mineral Found in Moon Meteorite Could Reveal Secrets Inside Earth's Mantle

Image: Miguel Claro.

Image: Miguel Claro.

'Donwilhelmsite' was discovered within shock melt zones of the lunar meteorite Oued Awlitis 001 found in 2014 in Western Sahara.

A team of European researchers has discovered a new high-pressure mineral named "donwilhelmsite" in the lunar meteorite Oued Awlitis 001.

This new mineral from the Moon could explain what happens in Earth's mantle, according to a study published in the journal American Mineralogist.

The new mineral is mainly composed of calcium, aluminium, silicon, and oxygen atoms.

Donwilhelmsite was discovered within shock melt zones of the lunar meteorite Oued Awlitis 001 found in 2014 in Western Sahara.

This meteorite is compositionally similar to rocks comprising the Earth's continents.

Eroded sediments from these continents are transported by wind and rivers to the oceans, and subducted into the Earth's mantle as part of the dense oceanic crust.

While being dragged deeper into the Earth mantle the pressure and temperature increases, and the minerals transform into denser mineral phases.

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The newly discovered mineral donwilhelmsite forms in 460 to 700-kilometre depth.

In the terrestrial rock cycle, donwilhelmsite is, therefore, an important agent for transporting crustal sediments through the transition zone separating the upper and lower Earth's mantle, said the study.

This pan-European collaboration was essential to obtain the lunar meteorite, recognise the new mineral, understand its scientific relevance, and to determine the crystal structure of the tiny, the thousands part of a millimetre thick, mineral crystal with high accuracy.

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"At the GFZ German Research Centre for Geoscience, we used transmission electron microscopy to investigate microstructural aspects of the samples," said study co-author Richard Wirth.

The new mineral was named in honour of the lunar geologist Don Wilhelms, an American scientist involved in landing site selection and data analyses of the Apollo space missions that brought to Earth the first rock samples from the Moon.

Part of the meteorite Oued Awlitis 001, acquired by crowdfunding initiative "Help us to get the Moon!" is on display at the Natural History Museum Vienna, Austria.