When Evgenii Krestianinov first handled a 5cm-wide meteorite fragment, he never dreamed that inside it contained a secret about the birth of our solar system.
The Russian-born cosmochemist's adventure began while he was studying in Canberra, and his supervisor purchased a piece of the Erg Chech 002 rock and charged him with dating it. The rock itself didn’t initially appear to be anything special — dozens of its fractured pieces are up for sale on eBay for as little as $11.
It was already known that Erg Chech 002 is so ancient it predates the Earth and it is the oldest volcanic rock known to humankind. But by analysing several types of isotopes in the meteorite, Mr Krestianinov was able to generate one of the most precise ages of a space object — 4.56556 billion years.
Speaking with Yahoo News Australia on Tuesday night, just hours before his paper was published in the journal, Nature Communications, Mr Krestianinov recalled the moment he made the discovery. “I was surprised but it wasn’t a eureka moment. It was more like: Hmmm, maybe I need to check my data again. So I checked it again,” he said.
How meteorite discovery will change our understanding of solar system
While discovering an accurate date during his time at Australia National University was “exciting”, the researcher revealed he’s made a much bigger game-changing discovery. After comparing older analysis of other meteorites with his more accurate reading of Erg Chech 002, he found it contained much higher concentrates of an unstable element called aluminium-26.
This means that contrary to popular assumption, aluminium-26 was irregularly distributed across the early solar nebula — a rotating interstellar cloud of dust and gas.
Mr Krestianinov's discovery is important because aluminium-26 is frequently used as a measurement tool to estimate the ages of meteorites from that time.
Now, Mr Krestianinov believes many of the dates given to other ancient objects could be inaccurate, so his discovery could enhance the ability of researchers to build a more accurate picture of the early history of our solar system.
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