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Primordial meteorite defies known categories

Jon Friedrich, a doctoral student at Purdue University, uses an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer to study the chemical composition the Yukon meteorite  

(CNN) -- A fragment of an ancient space rock that slammed into northwestern Canada earlier this year has a chemical composition unlike any meteorite ever studied and could offer clues about the genesis of the solar system, scientists said this week.

The Tagish Lake meteorite appears to represent a new type of debris from space, said Michael Lipschutz, a Purdue University chemist who studied the 4.5 billion-year-old oddity.

"It is different, an intermediate between two known types of carbonaceous chondrites. It represents a new kind of planetary material," said Lipschutz, who along with graduate student Jon Friedrich analyzed about 50 chemical elements in a sample of the rock.

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Carbonaceous chondrites, remnants of the early solar system, are extremely rare meteorites that contain organic compounds, the building blocks of life, and interstellar dust, which originated from exploded stars outside the solar system. Only 60 carbonaceous chondrites are known to exist, Lipschutz said.

Most fall into one of two classes: those that weathered blistering heat while in parent bodies that vaporized some volatile elements, and those that contain a chemical composition like that of the outer layer of the sun.

The Tagish Lake specimen, however, is different.

The meteor's smoke trail was photographed by Ewald Lemke of Atlin, British Columbia, on January 18  

"It is reasonable to assume it came from parts of the solar system different than the ones that produced other carbonaceous chondrites previously studied," Lipschutz said.

The meteorite that landed in the frozen Yukon Territory was only a fragment of a 250-ton monster that ignited into a giant fireball and produced an explosion equivalent to 5 to 10 kilotons of TNT, he said.

Jim Brook, a resident of the cold, snowy and remote region, found the fragments a week later and immediately placed them in frozen storage, preventing the release of unstable compounds. The fragments are considered among the best-preserved samples of the early solar system.

Lipschutz used an improved technique to analyze the meteorite. Additional studies by other scientific teams could provide more insight into nature of the mysterious meteorite, including one taking a close look at its organic compounds.



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Glass holds grains of truth about Earth's meteor history
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