Tiny, folded diamonds that fell to Earth from an ancient dwarf star may look like something out of an intergalactic feature film, but researchers from Australia and the United Kingdom have proven the rare gemstone’s existence after examining a rocky meteorite.
Scientists from Australia and the United Kingdom have proven the existence of lonsdaleite, a rare hexagonal shape Diamondno larger than a human hair, the researchers note, is layered in a distinct folded pattern, unlike earth-forming diamonds which have a cubic structure.
The existence of Lonsdaleite—named after the pioneering British crystallologist Dame Kathleen Lonsdale—was a subject of earlier debate because its existence could not be proven.
Lead scientist on the research team, Professor Andy Tomkins, from Monash University’s School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, said the mysteries of the rare diamond prompted him to continue searching for urelite meteorites in his lab.
It was a case of curiosity-driven science, Tomkins said.
“This is exactly the kind of intriguing observation that sends scientists diving into rabbit holes for months on end,” He said.
Naturally formed ureillite meteorites contain an abundance of diamonds higher than any known rock on Earth. It is also one of the few opportunities to study the mantle layer of dwarf planets.
The samples are created when asteroids collide with a planet while it is still hot, creating the ideal conditions for Lonsdalite and diamond growth due to the moderate pressure and rapid drop in temperatures in the liquid and gaseous environment.
“These findings help address a longstanding puzzle regarding the composition of the carbon phases in urelite that has been the subject of much speculation,” Tomkins said.
Tomkins also collaborated with researchers from CSIRO, RMIT University, the Australian Synchrotron, and the University of Plymouth to discover samples of lonsdaleite in nature, providing insight into the process’s potential replication for industrial purposes.
“These diamonds are very special,” said Alan Salk, a physicist and doctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (RMIT).
“The ordinary diamond that you will find here on Earth, like an engagement ring, has a specific cubic atomic structure. These special diamonds have a hexagonal structure.”
“It’s very exciting because it’s a new form of material.”
The unique shape is believed to be the reason why Lonsdalite is stronger than any other diamond.
Significant implications for mining and manufacturing
The world of CSIRO Colin MacRae in A Media releaseThis discovery has huge potential for industries such as mining, he said.
“If something harder than diamond could be made more easily, that’s something the industry would like to know about,” McCray said.
McCray noted that the discovery means they can find a way to reproduce the metal.
“Lonsdaleite could be used to make extremely tough machine parts if we could develop an industrial process that encourages the replacement of preformed graphite parts by lonsdaleite,” He said.
At present, the current method for producing synthetic diamonds involves chemical vapor deposition, whereby diamonds are formed on a gas mixture substrate at low pressures.
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