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60-Million-Year Old Meteorite Impact In Scotland Contains Rare Minerals From Outer Space

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A team of geologists has uncovered evidence of a meteorite impact that occurred about 60 million years ago in northwest Scotland. The impact is believed to have left traces of rare minerals that originated from outer space.

The Discovery

While investigating ancient volcanic rocks at two separate sites on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, geologists stumbled upon rare minerals of extraterrestrial origins that lay beneath layers of lavas.

These meteoritic minerals, which were found in two areas four miles apart from one another, have never been reported on Earth but were previously seen in samples of space dust collected from a comet.

Before making the discovery, the geologists said they thought they were looking at a volcanic flow deposit known as ignimbrite. However, after analyzing a rock with an electron microbe, they found it contained rare minerals never before seen on Earth.

This suggests that a meteorite had collided with Earth between 60 million years and 61.4 million years ago, according to the geologists.

Simon Drake, who is an associate lecturer in geology at the Birkbeck University of London in England, was the one who made the discovery along with his colleague Andy Beard.

Rare Minerals Found

After analyzing the rock, Drake and his team found a rare vanadium-rich and niobium-rich mineral known as osbornite. Osbornite is a very rare natural nitride originally formed in star dust and now, almost exclusively found in meteorites.

Previously, NASA was able to collect samples of this mineral as space dust from around the Wild-2 comet.  Also, the geologists found the osbornite unmelted, which means that it may have been originally part of the meteorite.

In addition to osbornite, the geologists also found reidite, native iron spherules, and, other exotic minerals. Reidite is known to be a form of zircon which has been found only in crater impacts.

According to Drake, the meteorite strike on the Isle of Skye may have played a role in the island's volcanological evolution. Scientists believe that this volcanological evolution began with a "volcanic plume," however; the new discovery suggests that a meteorite strike may have also played a part in the process.

Discovery Raises Many Questions

The geologists say that the new discovery raises many questions including where exactly did the meteorite crash, whether the impact caused a volcanic eruption to occur at the same time, and whether it was related to volcanic activity across the North Atlantic.

The discovery was published in the journal Geology.

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