A meteorite found in Algeria’s Erg Chech region of the Sahara Desert, in May 2020, is shedding light on the origins of the universe. Scientifically named as Erg Chech 002, this space rock has been considered by scientists as one of the oldest known meteorite remnants.
Initial analysis showed that the meteorite, which is encrusted with green crystals, is approximately 4.6 billion years old, meaning it was formed during the first million years of our solar system.
How much can a rock reveal about the development of our planet? The data could open up secrets about the solar system in its infancy during the birth of the planets and also help scientists better determine the ages of the oldest meteorites that fall to Earth.
Erg Chech 002 contained the radioactive isotope Aluminum-26 (26AI) when it formed, a significant fact since this unstable form of Aluminum is believed to have been important in a later stage of Earth’s evolution, so-called “planetary melting”, the team, led by Australian National University scientist Evgenii Krestianinov, wrote in a paper published on August 29 in Nature Communications.
As Erg Chech 002 has been determined as one of the oldest stony meteorites ever found, it allowed the scientists behind the analysis to explore the distribution of 26AI during the early period of the solar system. According to a press statement from the team conducting the analysis, the new findings “increase our understanding of the early solar system and may improve the accuracy of determining the ages of very old meteorites.”
Evgenii Krestianinov, from the Australian National University, and colleagues analyzed Erg Chech 002 and determined that its lead-isotopic age is roughly 4.566 billion years old. To reach that conclusion, the researchers measured the amounts of lead isotopes within it, but this was particularly interesting as it could have provided scientists with a way of improving another dating strategy for similar meteorites.
“Aluminum-26 is very useful stuff for scientists who want to understand how the solar system formed and developed,” Krestianinov told Live Science. “Because it decays over time, we can use it to date events — particularly within the first four or five million years of the solar system’s life.”
Scientists believe the Erg Chech 002 chunk has been lying in the sands of the Saharah for approximately 100 years before it was discovered, hinting at the strong possibility that there are many other meteorite fragments hidden in plain sight, waiting to be found.