Scientists decipher the origin of Earth’s minerals to enrich our understanding of other habitable planets

Scientists have uncovered the mysterious origins of terrestrial minerals by studying in detail their diverse composition over billions of years and finding evidence of the role of water and trace elements in their formation.

Nature has created 40% of the Earth’s 5659 recognized minerals and in some cases has used over 15 unique recipes to obtain their crystal and chemical composition.

Scientists have found that water plays a dominant role in the formation of more than 80% of minerals and that 41 rare earth elements, including arsenic, cadmium, gold, mercury, silver, titanium, zinc, uranium and tungsten, are important components of about 2400 of the planet’s minerals, according to according to Dr. Robert Hazen, study co-author and scientist at the Earth and Planetary Laboratory at the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington, DC.

Nine of the 5,659 recognized minerals that scientists have studied were formed by 15 or more different physical, chemical and/or biological processes, which included everything from near-instantaneous formation by lightning or meteorite impacts to changes caused by interactions. or shifts in high pressures and temperatures spanning hundreds of millions of years.

Scientists have discovered that pyrite, known as false gold (because many gold prospectors confuse gold with pyrite because they are almost similar in color and shape), was formed in 21 different ways, making it a “champion of diverse origins.”

Pyrite can form at high and low temperatures, with and without water, with the help of microbes, and also in harsh environments where life plays no role at all.

In contrast, diamonds originated in at least nine ways, including condensation in the cold atmospheres of old stars, during a meteor impact, and under extremely hot high pressures deep in the Earth.

“The remarkable work of Hazen and Morrison provides a potential way to predictably discover potential minerals in nature,” explains Unhui Lu, President of the Mineral Society and professor at the School of Earth and Space Sciences, Peking University, China.

Minerals may hold the key to reconstructing all “past life” and predicting “future life” for Earth, and “understanding the evolution of minerals” will provide us with a new path so that we can explore deep space and look for extraterrestrial life and the future. inhabited planets.

According to the abstract to the article, the chronology of the formation of minerals on Earth indicates that most of this diversity arose in the first 250 million years of the planet’s existence. It triggers curiosity to determine if we are truly alone in the universe.

“If life is rare in the universe, then this view of a metallic version of the early Earth provides many plausible interactive paths over a longer timescale than previous models,” the scientists explained.

However, if life is a cosmic necessity that appears on any world rich in minerals and water, these data support the hypothesis that life on Earth evolved rapidly in the early stages of planetary evolution.

Once they were accounted for in the mineral composition, the researchers came up with a total of more than 10,500 “minerals,” a new term, about 75% more than the 6,000 types of minerals officially recognized by the International Mineral Association.

Dr. Hazen and colleagues are changing the way we look at minerals. In addition to the chemical composition and physical properties, Hazen emphasizes their conditions and their formation contexts.

Minerals become witnesses and markers of the centuries-old history of matter formed during supernova explosions and collected in planetary systems during formation, including on a planet like Earth, which accompanies the emergence and development of life.

The results of this study were published in detail in the American Mineralogist on July 1.

Source: Daily Mail