'Lost planet' dropped diamonds from the sky billions of years ago

Steve Phelps
April 19, 2018

The asteroid, now known as "2008 TC3", was just over four metres in diameter and fell in the Nubian desert in Sudan. The space rock is classified as ureilite, a type of rare meteorite that has embedded within it several different types of minerals. This level of internal pressure can only be explained if the planetary parent body was a Mercury- to Mars-sized planetary "embryo", depending on the layer in which the diamonds were formed.

Debris from a meteorite that plunged to Earth in 2008 offers strong evidence of a lost planet that once drifted through our solar system, a new study has found.

If the authors are correct, the rocks could be the first pristine samples - or ureilites - of a dead planetary embryo ever recovered on Earth. Eventually those bodies collided and flung material out into space. They could only have formed under incredible pressure - the equivalent of diving 600 kilometers into Earth's interior or attempting to hold up 100,000 tons with your bare hands. If confirmed, they say, it would be the first time anyone has recovered fragments from one of our solar system's so-called "lost" planets.

The researchers posited this theory after gathering and analyzing the asteroid fragments through transmission electron microscopy.

A microscope's view of a diamond-encrusted meteorite.

A colorized image shows the diamond phase (blue), inclusions (yellow) and the graphite region. They were riddled with tiny imperfections, called inclusions, made of chromite, phosphate and iron-nickel sulfides.

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According to the researchers, this means the diamonds formed at the extreme pressure of 20 gigapscals - about 180 times as crushing as the pressure found at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, the deepest point in Earth's oceans. Because of that, they concluded the diamonds most likely formed in an environment found only inside rocky planets.

Our stellar neighborhood has eight main planetary bodies, but according to an worldwide team of scientists, there could have been another planet in our backyard, one that might have been destroyed at infancy during the chaotic formation of the solar system or in the ensuing years.

Rest either went on to form bigger planetary bodies or ended up being destroyed by the sun or ejected out of the solar system.

The parent "proto-planet" existed billions of years ago before breaking up in a collision and would have been about as large as Mercury or Mars, an article in the journal Nature Communications said.

An artist's rendering of the Psyche spacecraft approaching a giant metal asteroid.

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