This mysterious stone doesn’t match the ingredients found within our solar system. 

The universe is filled with so much wonders, and there’s a lot of mystery to be resolved. Everything here on Earth is thought of as endemic — consisting of elements that are only found on the planet. But several studies have proven that not all on Earth are endemic, and certain discoveries are indeed extraterrestrial — out of our world. Spoiler alert: not aliens. There are these stones that were discovered back in the 1990s, of which scientists dubbed as extraterrestrial, and even new research claim they’re even out of our solar system. Dear alien freaks, ever heard of the ‘Hypatia’ stone?

Related media: The Strange Case Of The Hypatia Stone

Once Upon Some Stones

In 1996, Egyptian geologists Aly Barakat made a discovery in southwestern Egypt of a tiny pebble that was just 3.5 centimeters (1.3 inches) wide at its widest, and weighed just a little over 30 grams (an ounce). Seems too little to be a mystery, huh? It was thought of as a meteorite, but later analysis revealed that it didn’t fit any of the categories of a meteorite. This was dubbed the ”Hypatia” stone, named after a 4th century female mathematician and philosopher, and has ever been a highly studied topic in the search for extraterrestrial existence.

Of course, Hypatia is out of our world, and out of our solar system, too. But where it actually came from was a mystery for over a decade, because scientists studied it with micro-diamonds 50 nanometers to 2 micrometers in size, and was thought of as a kind of diamond known as a carbonado diamond — (you guessed it) a diamond too rich with carbon and other elements as well. In two separate studies in 2013 and in 2015, the former by the University of Johannesburg, and the latter by the California Institute of Technology (CIT), which was later published in ’Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta,’ both studies ruled out that possibility. Sorry, its not a cosmic diamond. 

Geologists from the University of Johannesburg performed mineral analyses on the Hypatia that showed its made of matter that predates the existence of our sun or any celestial body within our solar system; and its chemical composition doesn’t fit anything they’ve found on Earth, in comets, or in meteorites ever studied before. If that’s the case, the stone might reveal a lot about how our solar system formed — that the dust cloud that eventually congealed into our solar system was not as uniform as previously believed. The ratio of the noble gases found in the stone proves that it is certainly out of our world.

Image: Mario di Martino / INAF Observatorio Astrofysico di Torino

“When Hypatia was first found to be extraterrestrial, it was a sensation, but these latest results are opening up even bigger questions about its origins,” said Marco Andreoli, a geologists at the University of Johannesburg, and study co-author, in a press release.

Whence Cometh Hypatia?

Hypatia hasn’t been officially declared a meteorite, and roughly 4 grams (0.14 ounce) of the original mass of the stone can currently be accounted for in our solar system, the rest is extraterrestrial.

“This is a piece of extraterrestrial material,” said Guillaume Avice, a postdoctoral scholar of geochemistry at CIT who was part of the 2015 study.

It’s not that the rest is permanently lost, he said, pieces of it has ever since been sent all around the world for further analysis. According to the International Meteoritical Society, a debris from space requires 20 percent of its original mass to be present for it to be officially declared a meteorite, and Hypatia doesn’t fit.

The 2015 study team focused on the mineral composition of the Hypatia stone, and found that the stone isn’t homogeneous, but consists of a carbon-rich matrix alongside with a variety of minerals as well. These mineral include pure metallic aluminum nuggets — an extremely rare find in the solar system — moissanite and silver iodine phosphide grains, and weird ratios of elements that doesn’t match any of the ratios of interplanetary debris in our solar system. For instance, their composition included a nickel-phosphide with a very high nickel to iron ratio.

“There is no known or imaginable mechanism that [this compound] could have been produced naturally in the solar nebula,” texted Jan Kramers, led author and geologist at the University of Johannesburg, in an email to Live Science.

How Mysterious Art Thou

The solar system formed some 4.6 billion years ago from a cloud of gas and dust — that’s the solar nebula — and remained even after the formation. According to Kramers and his team, they think that this portion of Hypatia might have formed from the pre-solar nebula, and made it older than the sun. But the rest (the carbon-rich matrix) might have formed later on in the farthest reach of the solar nebula, because large and dense bodies require materials that could have only been in the solar nebula.

Image: H. Raab / Wikimedia Commons

“If Hypatia itself is not pre-solar, [some of its chemical] features indicate that the solar nebula wasn’t the same kind of dust everywhere — which starts tugging at the generally accepted view of the formation of our solar system,” he said.

Several theories of the formation of the solar system hold truth that the solar nebula was evenly distributed, and Hypatia doesn’t fit that picture. Its matrix has no silicate minerals, and it seems all terrestrial planets are full of silicate, as well as meteorites, too. So if Hypatia’s matrix formed from the solar nebula, the nebula wasn’t homogeneous at all, according to Kramers. However, Avice says the interpretation of Hypatia’s formation is still questionable; and only further analysis of the stone’s isotopes, or variations of its atomic number of neutrons in their nuclei, would be able to test if its indeed pre-solar.

“Pre-solar material has a very strange isotopic composition compared to the average values of the solar system,” Avice said.

Kramers also believes an isotopic analysis of both the matrix and its mineral composition is the next step scientists have to take to better understand the mystery of the Hypatia stone.

As Avice concludes, “we still don’t know what this is, exactly.”

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sun, Oct 24, 2021.


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