Scientists decipher unique origin of Earth’s minerals in landmark study

Scientists have uncovered the mysterious origin of terrestrial minerals and described in detail their diverse formation over billions of years, finding evidence of the role of water and rare elements in their formation, as well as 297 events preceding the birth of our planet.

Nature has created 40 percent of the Earth’s 5,659 recognized minerals and, in some cases, has used over 15 unique recipes to obtain their crystal structure and chemical composition.

Scientists have found that water plays a dominant role in the formation of more than 80 percent of mineral species and that 41 rare earth elements, including arsenic, cadmium, gold, Mercurysilver, titanium, zinc, uranium and tungsten are the main components of about 2400 minerals of the planet.

Over the past 4.5 billion years, nature has used 21 ways to create pyrite, also known as fool’s gold, the world’s champion mineral of various origins.

“This work fundamentally changes our view of the diversity of minerals on the planet,” says the doctor. Robert Hazen, study co-author and staff scientist at the Earth and Planetary Laboratory at the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington, D.C. statement.

Nine of the 5,659 recognized types of minerals studied by scientists resulted from 15 or more different physical, chemical and/or biological processes, which included everything from the almost instantaneous formation of lightning or meteorite impacts to changes caused by the interaction of water and rocks or transformation during high pressures and temperatures spanning hundreds of millions of years.

Scientists have discovered that pyrite, known as fool’s gold, was formed in 21 different ways, making it a champion of various origins.

Pyrite can form at high and low temperatures, with and without water, with the help of microbes, and also in harsh environments where life plays no role at all.

By contrast, diamonds originated in at least nine ways, including condensation in the cooling atmosphere of old stars, meteorite impacts, and hot ultra-high pressures deep inside the Earth.

“Minerals could be the key to reconstructing all of ‘past life’ and predicting Earth’s ‘future life’,” the researchers say. Pictured above is a stunning specimen of a biomineral from Alberta, Canada – the intersection of minerals and life.

“The remarkable work of Hazen and Morrison provides a potential way to predictably discover possible minerals in nature,” explains Anhuai Lu, President of the Mineralogical Association and professor at the School of Earth and Space Sciences at Peking University in Beijing, China.

“Minerals may be the key to reconstructing all ‘past life’ and predicting Earth’s ‘future life’,” and understanding the evolution of minerals “will offer us a new path to explore deep space and search for extraterrestrial life and habitable objects.” planets in the future.

According to the paper’s abstract, the Earth’s timeline for the formation of minerals suggests that most of this diversity was formed in the first 250 million years of the planet’s existence.

Pictured above: Beryl, the most common mineral containing the element beryllium, comes in many beautiful colors, such as emerald being its common name.

Pictured above: Beryl, the most common mineral containing the element beryllium, comes in many beautiful colors, such as emerald being its common name.

This is essential in determining whether we are truly alone in the universe.

“If life is rare in the universe, then this view of the mineralogically diverse early Earth provides many more plausible reaction pathways over a longer time period than previous models,” the authors write.

“If, however, life is a cosmic imperative that emerges on any world rich in minerals and water, then these findings support the hypothesis that life on Earth evolved rapidly in the early stages of planetary evolution.”

The researchers say that around 4.45 billion years ago, when water first appeared on Earth, the earliest water-rock interactions could have resulted in the formation of up to 350 minerals in near-surface marine and terrestrial environments.  Pictured above is Earth.

The researchers say that around 4.45 billion years ago, when water first appeared on Earth, the earliest water-rock interactions could have resulted in the formation of up to 350 minerals in near-surface marine and terrestrial environments. Pictured above is Earth.

By taking into account the genesis of the minerals, the researchers came up with a total of more than 10,500 “mineral types,” a newly coined term, about 75 percent more than the 6,000 types of minerals officially recognized by the International Mineralogical Association.

“What mineral-forming environments are found on the Moon, Mars and other terrestrial worlds?” the authors ask.

“If there was (or still is) a hydrological cycle on Mars, what mineralogical manifestations could we expect?

– On the other hand, if the Moon is really dry, then what paragenetic processes are excluded?

Paragenetic simply refers to the set of minerals that formed together.

“The stark contrast between the Earth’s large array of minerals and the relative mineralogical economies of the Moon and Mercury, and the modest diversity found on Mars, stems from the differing influence of water,” the authors say. Pictured is an image of Mars released by China’s National Space Administration.

“Are extraterrestrial bodies exhibiting paragenetic processes not observed on Earth, such as cryovolcanism on Titan?”

“Hayzen and his colleagues have changed this way of looking at minerals. In addition to the chemical composition and physical properties, Hazen highlights their conditions and contexts of formation, and there is a new way to see minerals,” says Professor Patrick Cordier from the University Institute of France.

“Minerals become witnesses, markers of a long history of matter that takes shape in supernova explosions, collects in planetary systems during formation, and even on a planet like Earth, accompanies the emergence and development of life.

“Most scientists produce data, some are lucky enough to make discoveries, few of them change our understanding of the world. Hazen is one of them.”

Their work has been published in the journal American mineralogist July 1.