Not only have scientists discovered what are possibly new building blocks of our solar system, but those building blocks probably come from a previously undiscovered part of our solar system's protoplanetary disk.
Scientists working with NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission found these new minerals, called sulfide chondrules, in a rare kind of meteorite. Because of the presence of these minerals, they now believe that these existed before our system actually formed bodies such as asteroids and planets.
We know that elements such as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen started out as gases in the solar system's protoplanetary disk, or the rotating disk of gas and dust where planets form, when it was relatively young, less than 10 million years old. Those elements eventually proved important in the creation of Earth. However, the scientific team studied meteorites younger than that, those that formed around 4.6 billion years ago. These meteorites are likely the remnants of the solar system's birth and contain chondrules, which were once melted droplets the meteorites came in contact with in space.
However, after studying a more rare type of meteorite with chondrites, the R chondrite, scientists found the new building block sulfide chondrules. Scientists believe these meteorites formed somewhere between Earth and Jupiter and are probably pieces from larger asteroids.
"Generally, chondrules are made up of minerals rich in silicon, but the chondrules we found in this meteorite are completely different in that they are composed of sulfide minerals," says Kelly Miller, a doctoral student in the lab of Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of the NASA mission. "This suggests that they formed in a region that was rich in sulfur, and provides evidence for a previously unknown type of environment in the early solar system."
This study acts as preliminary research before NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission, which will launch next year and head to the asteroid Bennu. There, the mission seeks to collect samples of the asteroid and bring it back to Earth for study. What's important about this mission is that it will be the first time we'll have collected samples from such a celestial body, and more importantly, from a body that has a history we're familiar with. We know where Bennu has been, so scientists can put any discoveries made from samples of its material into the right context.
"Unlike with meteorites that came to us serendipitously and we're lacking the context of where the material formed, with OSIRIS-REx we will know exactly where that piece came from, and we will know the travel history of Bennu - where it has been in the past," says Miller.