Physicists have discovered an ultra-rare quasi-crystal in a piece of Russian meteorite. This is only the third time that we have discovered one of these strange materials in nature.
Originating in space, these crystals are not only incredible for their rarity — their atomic structure is also very peculiar (so much so that scientists have deemed their existence “impossible” for years). This new model of quasicrystals was discovered by a team of geologists led by Luca Bindi, from the University of Florence in Italy, after examining a small meteorite grain that landed five years ago in the Khatyrka region, in the Russian Far East. The identified small piece is only a few micrometers wide.
It is to date the third quasi-crystal found in this meteorite. Each of them has a different structure, which suggests that there could be many more in space. A quasicrystal is a solid that has an essentially discrete diffraction spectrum (like classical crystals), but whose structure is not periodic (whereas classical crystals are periodic). In other words, quasicrystal is a type of material that violates the rules of crystallography since it has an ordered arrangement of atoms, but never repeats unlike regular crystals like snowflakes, diamonds or table salt which are made up of atoms arranged in almost perfect symmetry.
Analysis of this quasi-crystal by electrons showed that the ore was composed of aluminum, copper and iron atoms in a pattern similar to the pentagons found in soccer balls. Like the two previous models discovered, this quasi-crystal formed before arriving on Earth during a cosmic collision between two celestial rocks. Note that if the quasi-crystal seems extremely rare in nature, its synthetic version is nevertheless widely used in many fields, from electronics to household appliances.