Interstellar Stone Hypatia Contains Compounds That Are Not Found In Our Solar System

[Image Credit: Dr Mario di Martino, INAF Osservatorio Astrofysico di Torino]

A strange intersteller stone named Hypatia that was found in 1996 at the Libyan Desert Glass field could have been formed much before the formation of our solar system, suggests a new study carried out by researchers from the University of Johannesburg.

Hypatia was discovered in 1996, and was given the name “Hypatia” after Hypatia of Alexandria, a scientist that lived during the 4-5th century CE.  In 2013, a team of scientists at the University of Johannesburg analyzed this diamond-filled stone in detail and found that Hypatia doesn’t belong to our earth.

Researchers proposed that this stone might be a fragment of comet nucleus, which got separated from the comet after a collision with some other body.  Researchers described this stone as the first “comet nucleus” found on earth.  In another study, researchers hypothesized that the Hypatia stone was formed in cold environment.

The Earth’s solar system came into existence billions of years ago as a massive cloud of gas and dust surrounding the Sun. Over time, planets and dwarf planets were formed after the gas and dust clumped together. The leftover fragments became asteroids and comets and started moving around the Sun.

To find more details about this weird stone, scientists at the University of Johannesburg decided to analyze the chemical composition of the stone. The carbonaceous matrix of Hypatia was examined, which revealed that this stone doesn’t contain silicate matter that is generally present in in space rocks moving inside Earth’s solar system.

The analysis also revealed that this stone contains micro-minerals that are not found on Earth or in our whole solar system. The finding suggests that this stone is not related to any comet or meteorite from our solar system.

The finding that Hypatia is a guest to our earth and came from outside of our solar system has baffled scientist and deepened the mystery regarding the formation of our solar system.  Scientists believe it is also possible that Hypatia predates the formation of solar system.

According to lead researcher Jan Kramers, the mineral composition of Hypatia is just the opposite of chondrites, (non-metallic meteorites) whose composition is lot like Earth, with a lot of silicon and a small amount of carbon. Hypatia is composed of a very small amount of silicon and a lot of carbon.

“In chondritic meteorites, we expect to see a small amount of carbon and a good amount of silicon. But Hypatia’s matrix has a massive amount of carbon and an unusually small amount of silicon,” said Kramers.

According to Kramers, matrix of Hypatia contains a large amount of the polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are most commonly found in the interstellar dust. Scientists believe this intersteller dust came into existence before the formation of the Earth’s solar system.

“Interstellar dust is also found in comets and meteorites that have not been heated up for a prolonged period in their history.”

Analysis of Hypatia revealed that some of its PAH was changed into sub-micrometre diamonds. Probably, this happened after Hypatia’s impact with Earth.

Hypatia was also found to have aluminum in its pure metallic form. It is usually not found on Earth or in the Solar System.

The stone also found to contain silicon carbide (moissanite) and silver iodine phosphide in unexpected forms. A highly unusual compound containing mainly nickel and phosphorus (with no iron) was also found.

All these findings indicate that the strange stone Hypatia is made of unchanged materials that came into existence before the formation of solar system.

Researchers also reveal that Hypatia was formed in an extremely cold environment where temperature was below -196°C. This indicates that the stone might have come from the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune or from the Oort Cloud.

Detailed findings of the study were published in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.