In general, we have a pretty solid idea of what kinds of materials exist in the earth's crust, but despite centuries of research, sometimes our planet throws the curve ball at the researchers. For a doctor. a student at the University of Alberta, this curve ball was in the form of a never-seen mineral tucked inside a diamond in a volcanic object in South Africa.
Nicole Meyer and a team of researchers are the first to identify the mineral now known as Goldschmidtite, a strange combination of elements that might cast a glimpse into the inner functioning of the earth's mantle.
The first documented excerpt from Goldschmidtite, named after the legendary geochemist Victor Moritz Goldschmidt, was found sealed inside a diamond by a volcanic digging object known as the Koffiefontein mine. The elements that make up the mineral make it a real oddity.
"Goldschmidts have high concentrations of niobium, potassium, and rare earth elements lanthanum and cerium, while the rest of the mantle is dominated by other elements, such as magnesium and iron," explained Mayer, the first author of a new study published in the American Mineralogist.
Studying material deep into the earth's mantle is incredibly difficult. We can only dig so deep, which means that researchers have to scrub the surface for clues about the processes that happen far below our feet. Diamond inclusions ̵
"Goldschmidtite is extremely unusual for inclusion, captured by diamond and gives us a snapshot of fluid processes that affect the deep roots of continents during diamond formation," said Graham Pearson, team co-leader.
The discovery may ultimately raise more questions than it answers, but that's all part of the game when you try to break the earth's secrets.