These diamonds from outer space hint at a long-lost planet


The Almahata Sitta meteorite crashed into the Nubian Desert of Sudan in 2008 and has been a subject of study ever since.

Planetary scientists believe the early solar system hosted many similarly sized planetary embryos. Using transmission electron microscopy and electron energy-loss spectroscopy, the team analysed the Almahata Sitta diamonds to see what these mineral inclusions were.

"These samples are coming from an era that we don't have any access to", said Farhang Nabiei, a materials scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and the lead author of the new report.

This reinforces the theory that the current planets of the solar system were formed from the remains of dozens of large protoplanets, the researchers add.

These diamonds may be all that's left of one of them, says Gillet: "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".

But that's not the only thing that made Almahata Sitta special. Unlike other meteorites, which can be traced to parent bodies such as asteroids, Mars or the moon by comparing the ratios of different varieties of elements, these rocks have no known source. The size of the diamonds in this meteorite, which were larger than others', aren't compatible with the first two methods, meaning they likely formed through high pressure within some sort of major astronomical body.

"Diamonds make good containers for inclusions because they are so rigid and nonreactive", Asimow said.

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They discovered chromite, phosphate and iron-nickel sulfide embedded in the diamond, with compositions and morphologies that could only have occurred under greater pressure than 20 gigapascals - almost 200,000 times that of sea level atmospheric pressure.

To be clear, the diamonds did not fall to Earth on their own. Such levels of pressure couldn't be created by a collision; they could only be found inside a planetary body with a size between Mercury and Mars.

This holds true for diamonds formed in space as well.

If this is where the meteorite formed, it confirms that some early solar system protoplanets were quite large.

The planet existed just a few million years after the birth of the Sun and was destroyed in an epic cosmic collision.

Fragments of a meteorite that fell to Earth about a decade ago provide compelling evidence of a lost planet that once roamed our solar system, according to a study published Tuesday.