Throughout the known universe, the Earth is considered significantly distinct from other planets and cosmic objects because it is the only home to living beings.
In fact, our planet's ability to host life may be linked to the existence of rare minerals, differentiating it from others in the cosmos.
Planets That Support Life
In a new study that catalogued minerals on Earth, a pair of scientists found that there are about 2,550 rare minerals that make up our planet's unique fingerprint.
Research scientists Robert Hazen and Jesse Ausubel teamed up to classify the most singular minerals on the planet, such as the Sardinian ichnusaite as well as the amosite and the fingerita found in El Salvador.
The pair found that there is an association between the presence of minerals on Earth and the planet's ability to sustain life.
"Life depends on minerals," says Hazen, a scientist at the Geophysical Laboratory in the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "Life could not have begun without some of the chemical properties that minerals provided at Earth's beginning."
Their conclusion is that each planet with the ability to support life has a unique fingerprint of rare minerals. It's also very likely that planets such as Mercury and Mars have much simpler minerals because they cannot sustain life.
Hazen, who is also the executive director of the Deep Carbon Observatory that examines carbon on Earth, says that explorations performed by rovers on the moon and on Mars are not finding anything very surprising in the field of mineralogy because of this reason.
Fitting In One Thimble
Ausubel, a senior research associate in New York City's Rockefeller University, says the mineral resources on Earth are linked to the planet's richness of life. A planet that is ecologically poorer is equal to a planet with a presence of fewer minerals.
Additionally, none of the 2,550 minerals identified in the study is located in more than five locations, which means they are "the rarest of the rare."
For some of the minerals, the supply is so scarce that it could fit in a thimble. But hunting down these odd minerals are important because they are fundamentally vital to understanding the construction of our planet.
Hazen and Ausubel divided the 2,550 minerals into four broad categories of rarity, depending on the conditions in which they form, how rare their ingredients are, how ephemeral they are and the limitations of their supply.
Incidentally, there is one entry in the catalogue that is named after Hazen.
"Hazenite" is only found in Mono Lake in California and forms when the phosphorus concentration in the lake reaches high levels. The microbes in the water have to start excreting hazenite from their cells in order to survive. The tiny, colorless crystals are essentially microbial "poop."
"Yes, it's true - hazenite happens," adds Hazen.
Hazen and Ausubel's findings are featured in the magazine American Mineralogist.