Study: diamonds in meteorite may indicate a lost planet that once roamed our solar system

Fragments of a meteorite that fell to Earth more than a decade ago provide compelling evidence of a lost planet that once roamed our solar system, according to a study published Tuesday.

The diamonds in the meteorite, which crashed in Sudan’s Nubian Desert in October 2008, have tiny crystals inside them that would have required great pressure to form, said one of the study’s co-authors, Philippe Gillet.

“We demonstrate that these large diamonds cannot be the result of a shock but rather of growth that has taken place within a planet,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Switzerland.

Gillet, a planetary scientist at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, said researchers calculated a pressure of 200,000 bar (2.9 million psi) would be needed to form such diamonds, suggesting the mystery planet was as least as big as Mercury, possibly even Mars.

Scientists have long theorized that the early solar system once contained many more planets—some of which were likely little more than a mass of molten magma. One of these embryo planets—dubbed Theia—is believed to have slammed into a young Earth, ejecting a large amount of debris that later formed the moon.

“What we’re claiming here,” said Gillet, “is that we have in our hands a remnant of this first generation of planets that are missing today because they were destroyed or incorporated in a bigger planet.”

Addi Bischoff, a meteorite expert at the University of Muenster, Germany, said the methods used in the study were sound and the conclusion was plausible, but added that further evidence of sustained high pressure would be expected to be found in the minerals surrounding the diamonds.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-03808-6

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-04-diamond-sky-lost-planet.html#jCp

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68 thoughts on “Study: diamonds in meteorite may indicate a lost planet that once roamed our solar system

      • To give a serious answer, first I think this explanation is possible. However, there is also a theory that diamonds can be created during a supernova of a second generation star, and the debris from several such supernovae could have been the source of material for the disk of matter that coalesced to form our solar system.

        Either way, that stuff has been floating out in space for a couple of billion years, maybe more.

      • Yes, industrial diamonds are made in factories on Earth, without the mass of Mars on the factory floor.
        All that is needed is pressure and heat. Large planetoid collisions would provide the conditions.

      • Yes Mark, the crystalography and petrological feaures are what determins if it grew slowly inside a crystaline mantle matrix of a planet interior. Shock diamonds don’t grow that way, they are small transient products that are directionally polarised. They also don’t display crystal intergrowths or inclusions, nor the size spectrum and orientations of crystals that grew at depth within a planetary mantle matrix. Such intergrowths only develop at sustained high confining pressures deep inside Earth, or another planet.

        Stellar micro diamonds initially formed before a supernova would also be immediately disintegrated, at a molecular if not atomic level, by the energy of the supernova. No mere crystal is going to survive the energy levels within a supernova’s gamma ray flux and initial expanding plasma ball.

      • I would go with the ancient Sumerian account of what befell our earth in collision with a large watery moon of a passing planet, it took a big chunk of earth that is now the southern oceans with little land mass. They say that is where we got most of our water from. Thus far their clay tablets have been very inciteful.

      • For Wayne Job – The YD guys suggest that the Sumerian accounts, Gilgamesh, and the Great Flood may all be tied into the impact that created the Burkle Crater in the Indian Ocean. Dates work out nicely. Amount of water does also. And if it was a comet, it would have been observed inbound for a while before impact. Cheers –

  1. I like it… yet it is kind of old science. Microdiamonds are found in a lot more than the Nubian meteorite. Just saying… GoatGuy

    • Yes, this is ‘news’ that isn’t really new. A problem that is encountered routinely with making polished thin-sections of meteorites is the presence of diamonds.

  2. Big crystals in iron meteorites (Widmanstätten patterns) indicate a very slow cooling, but not necessarily a high pressure. This diamond study complements them nicely.

      • I forgot how fast diamond bearing materials came up in the Kimberlite deposits, so ignore my previous statement, it is wrong.

      • Be careful Mark. You just made a self-admission of being wrong. Are you trying to break the internet!

    • And iron meteorites are posited to result from a disrupted planetary/oid interor. Yes, this is hardly new, except:

      “…. “We demonstrate that these large diamonds cannot be the result of a shock but rather of growth that has taken place within a planet,” …. ”

      These apparently grew into the solidified matrix, prior to the pressure drop.

  3. The paper details a thorough tour of mineralogy, crystallography, spectroscopy, and electron microscopy analyses, as applied to the meteorite samples. Given my familiarity with the tools they employed, care to prevent sampling induced errors, and their results, I think their report is both well founded and well written. As a lead engineer who edited and approved many engineering reports incorporating these and other analytical methods, I would have had no problem approving this report for either company internal release or external publication.

  4. Asteroids often fall into two main groups, depending on whether they are mostly rocky, or mostly iron. The only way I know of for the composition to be sorted like that is if they were formerly parts of proto planets that segregated the well mixed minerals by gravity.If this is the case then proto planets were common.

    • Yes, the presence of very large nickle-iron meteorites with Widmanstätten patterns are a strong argument for a protoplanet that was large enough for melt overturning and consequent concentration of the high-density elements in the core, with subsequent slow cooling under high pressure. The stony meteorites may have cooled more quickly, preventing retrograde conversion of diamonds to graphite. But none of this is new.

  5. I thought that the prevailing theory was that the moon was formed by a collision between the earth and a large body of some kind. If so, could this meteorite not be of earthly origin?

    Asked in ignorance,

    w.

    • From the 4th paragraph in the above article:

      “One of these embryo planets—dubbed Theia—is believed to have slammed into a young Earth, ejecting a large amount of debris that later formed the moon.”

      Aren’t meteorites “not of earthly origin” by definition?

      • If the Earth and Theia formed in about the same orbit, which is also required if you are going to get a collision that is slow enough so that both bodies aren’t shattered and the debris scattered to far to re-coalesce, then both bodies will have close/identical isotopic compositions.

      • Also, most of the material ejected to make the moon would have been from Earth’s crust, so you’d expect similar composition.

      • From the model runs I’ve seen, the moon’s material came from both the proto-earth and the collider object’s crust. The proto-earth also kept most of the collider object’s core material, which would explain why the Earth has an oversized core. Thankfully we do, because no plate tectonics without it. With no plate techtonics, erosion would have eliminated the continents long before humanity had a chance to evolve.

      • True. The heavier elements in the collider sank, according to current thinking. We might also owe our strong magnetic field to the collision.

        The collider might, as you note, already have been similar in composition to Earth, so that whatever mixing with our planet’s crust or magma would be enough to explain any observed differences between lunar and terrestrial material.

      • From the model runs that I’ve seen the angle of impact makes a big difference in how much the collider’s crust ends up in the moon and how much end’s up in the Earth.

      • @Mark, or small enough to not splatter the whole shebang. I suspect fast and small is much more likely than large and slow. A fast and small grazing blow gets it done, with just enough splatter debris to produce long lived asteroids (see moon craters). Alternatively, not a hit, just a very disruptive rotational destabilisation close pass. But with enough energy of disruption to cause the moon to deplete its crustal volatiles.

        The actual asteroid belt origin will be a different collision process.

        “Mom! … my computer model can’t replicate this!”

      • @ Willis, … some rambling stuff.

        I strongly suspect that proto stellar clouds form billions of ‘wet’ gassy silicate rock planetoids, notjust stars, a very few of which become caught up, by chance, in proto-stellar disks (the vast majority don’t have a star and disperse widely as the proto dust cloud cooks away) then the pre-formed disk-trapped planets alter more from there, via both bombardment and collisions, etc.

        i.e. bombardment is planetary finishing-school, not the mode of formation, just one mode of alteration. Thus proto planets don’t necessarily have liquid phase mantles, within proto disks. Hence Earth has retained copious volitiles now, in its mantle.

        Thus all planets would be older than their current star’s formation age, hence planetary types and character diversity that we see.

        And giant gas planets are just a few of the billions of failed proto-stars, and a sprinkling of those got trapped in the Sol.disk too.

        Thus if there is no melted mantle stage, many more rocky planets would be like Earth, giant balls of ‘wet’ gassy fertilizer, ideal for life to form. Just add a star.

        Too close to star and it collides it re-surfaces and loses volatiles from mantle (Venus), too far out and it collides and devolitilises then freezes (Mars). Or else, like Earth-Moon, it collides with something, Earth is less disrupted, but moon fully melts and devolitilises … all within the correct habitable zone. Sucks to be a moonie.

        So only Earth was at both the right radius and also managed to not lose most of its original volitiles, through post collision melting, even though a big part of Earth, the moon, did met and lose its volitiles.

        So … proto stellar disk aren’t where planets form, they just alter them, and vast numbers of planets have no star to orbit, so some will orbit other large gassy proto-planets in darkness, including brown dwarfs. And life development is a crap-shoot determined by residual volitile sufficiency, to keep the fertilizer wet and gassy, at the right radius, around just the right sort of star.

        And Earth had to literally GROW its O2 atmospheric mix, only after anoxic prokaryotes evolved into oxygen-producing eukaryotes, almost 2.2 billion years ago.

        A lot of stuff had to go just right for you to get this speculation.

        There are of course those who think commets did it all—mostly because they can’t think of anything else.

        Nah.

      • Assume two similar sized planets were formed outside of our sun’s current solar system and were orbiting one another while traversing through outer space. Their trajectory was altered and they were pulled toward the sun/solar system by gravitational effects. They would have had a tendency to be on a collision path with the sun but due to the moving/motion of the sun, they would likely pass ‘behind’ it but the gravitational effect of the sun would alter their respective orbits around one another, and with their respective gravitational fields possibly causing a side swiping collision.

        Venus has the longest rotation period (243 days) of any planet in the Solar System and rotates in the opposite direction to most other planets. Could a collision between Earth and Venus be the cause of Venus’ opposite rotation with the Earth’s moon being a breakaway from either one.

        I could go on and explain the possible dynamics of such a collision but I didn’t see it happen and don’t have enough abbreviated capital letters after my name. Anyway, it’s just a hypothesis. A cold beer and a little warmer weather would suite my immediate desires a little better.

    • Willis. I don’t know much about this. But my understanding is that isotopic analysis splits meteorites into three groups. One group has a composition mix close to the Earth. These are thought to originate from the Earth and moon.. Almost all the remainder have much the same mix and are thought to originate in the asteroid belt. The remaining dozen or so appear to be from someplace else. They are attributed to Mars, and may well come from there. OTOH, there’s an old paper that I’ve lost track of, that points out that the Martian origin is based on comparing isotope ratios to current Martian atmospheric percentages reported by the Viking lander and that most of the seven elements reported have broad error margins in the Viking data. i.e. Martian origin is far from a done deal.

      Perhaps someone around here actually knows something about meteorites and can elaborate or correct me.

      BTW, I’m not that sold on the collision theory of lunar origin. Planets are small targets and the chance that any two objects orbiting the sun will hit each other seem pretty small. My impression is that the theory was accepted because it was the only model that seemed remotely feasible.

      • BTW, I’m not that sold on the collision theory of lunar origin. Planets are small targets and the chance that any two objects orbiting the sun will hit each other seem pretty small.”

        They are, and part of the theory is that back at the time of the proposed collision there were a whole lot more objects of varying sizes orbiting the sun than there are now. Collisions over the eons have gradually whittled them down to the relative few that exist now. (all the huge mare on the moons surface are a good sign on how intense the early bombardment was)

        Also, planetary sized bodies influence and shape orbits, so that collisions aren’t a result of pure chance. By that I mean that another planetary body that formed in an orbit fairly close to earths would have been affected by the young earth’s gravity over time, and they eventually would have ended up moving into the same orbit and colliding.

        A good question is always why the material in the asteroid belt never coalesced into a planet, even though there appears to be enough material there. Maybe Kirk’s planet eater got it.

      • Asteroids are even smaller targets, yet billions of them collided with each other to form the planets.
        If Earth and the collider formed in similar orbits, than a collision is almost inevitable.

      • Early bombardment couldn’t have formed the craters on the moon, since the moon’s surface was still molten at the time. The source of this second bombardment is one of the mysteries regarding the formation of the solar system.
        There are other mysteries, like why Uranus and Neptune are further out than they should be and in reversed orbits as well.
        Where did Earth’s water come from? Almost all of the water that came to the Earth during the early bombardment should have evaporated away while the earth was still molten.
        Why is there so much metal in the Earth’s crust. Most of it should have sunk to the center while the Earth was still molten?

        The theory that Jupiter migrated in closer to the inner solar system until it was stopped due a gravitational resonance with Saturn solves these problem and also solves the problem of the asteroid belt and why Mars is so much smaller than Earth and Venus.

        In every planetary system we have found so far, large planets that should have formed in the outer reaches of their respective solar systems are close to the star.
        The question is not why did Jupiter migrate in towards the sun, the question is what stopped it from coming all the way in and tossing the inner planets out of the solar system.

      • MarkW,

        Before the LHB, 4.1 to 3.8 Ga, Earth already had not only cooled enough for a crust to form but oceans. Detrital zircon crystals dated to 4.4 Ga show evidence of having undergone contact with liquid water, suggesting that Earth already had seas at that time. The LHB was probably not intense enough for this crust completely to remelt.

      • From the theories I have read, the late heavy bombardment was the source of both much of the Earth’s water as well as many of the metals in it’s crust.
        From what I have read, the Earth’s water is isotopically a mixture of water from the local area, (Early bombardment) and water from the outer solar system (LHB)

      • @ wws

        ” … A good question is always why the material in the asteroid belt never coalesced into a planet, even though there appears to be enough material there. Maybe Kirk’s planet eater got it. ”
        —-

        Maybe it’s because planets just don’t form that way?

        When stars go bang they go through all sorts of eruptions (see Eta Carinae for instance https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eta_Carinae ) and fling out matter. Now there are a large range of star types, and a similar number of spectacular nova styles.These seed and create proto stellar dust clouds. As is see it, these are proto-everything clouds. i.e. in a synergistic proto-genesis context, i.e.

        Asteroids are failed proto moons.
        Moons are failed proto rocky planets.
        Rocky planets are failed proto gas giants.
        Gas giants are failed proto Brown Dwarfs.
        Brown Dwarfs are failed proto Main Sequence Stars.

        This is not to say asteriods, moonzs and planets can’t be produced in a solar system context, via collisions, but mostly not. They are predominently generated in proto stellar (everything) clouds instead. Then caught up in the formation of a Star.

        A star erupting like cosmic volcanoe could eject millions of huge blobs of hot iron and nickel, doped with radio nuclides.

        Geochemistry has long proposed chemical differenciation, from a once molten mantle, to explain a theorised hot iron-nickel core to earth. But given Earth’s extremely high volitiles, even after 4.5 billion years of progressively devolitilising, the chances that Earth’s mantle was ever fully molten, before the high silica crust formed, seems quite small to absurd. Nah. Not consistent with so much else.

        However, if the still hot (actively heated btw) metal core of earth, and other planets, was tossed out of a star, instead, into a proto-everything cloud, and the volitile-rich material which became the mantle, accreted around this ball of metal (at close to 0°K space), and without the mantle ever becoming more than partial-melting zones, this would explain what we actually see today. How else could Earth retain enormous quantities of volitiles, plus heat, and partial melting, to this day?

        But it would mean planets simply do not form in proto-stellar disks at all, they just get collided with and bombarded back into moons and asteroids there, again, or manage to survive with minimal collisional alterations (Earth).

        Hence no planet forms from assorted asteriods, as they need a big enough pre-existing dense cohesive metal core to accrete to. So instead, they perioeically crash into planets and moons that already have one.

        Question: Why would a proto-stellar cloud not generate all the smaller objects first, in uncountable profusion, if the whole stellar hypothesis rests on such accretion?

        When you eat your dinner tonight, just remember that your fries are a result of mantle devolitisation, as is you fork, and si are you, as is every bit of matter you’ve ever walked upon or worn. The mantle keeps you alive.

        The story of Earth (and climate) is a story of endless devolitilisation of a wet and gassy mantle. And Earth’s core most likely resulted from a star devolitilising itself.

      • What I do know is that the odds are a significant sum was paid for that meteorite fragment. In desert areas all over this earth people hunt for these bits of extraterrestrial rock, metal, and minerals to sell them to museums and research institutions. Some have made a lucrative business out of this special trade.

    • Willis: “… could this meteorite not be of earthly origin?”

      I am no expert in any of these field involved… but I think I remember having read that the impact between Theia and proto-Earth was so energetic, that it basically melted, if not vaporized most if not all material “flying around”.

      I would not rule out an earthly origin (or an origin from Theia), but from my (very limited) understanding of the topic, if it came from Earth, it probably did not come from THAT collision.

      Besides,the question is if the isotope ratios match. I would expect the authors of that paper checked the isotopes ratios of that meteorite, and if it matched they would hopefully reported it. Would need to check the paper, don’t have time…

    • … to follow up, the short answer is that the 2008 TC3 meteorite is not of earthly origin, the isotope ratios of the meteorite (so called polymict ureilite achondrite) are different from the Earth-Moon system:

      https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/maps.12401

      But boy, I could really get lost in Solar System science, I really need to step away from that topic or otherwise it drags my down into a captivating rabbit hole… The development of the Solar System is probably the biggest puzzle, from which have some puzzle pieces. And we are still learning something, with 2008 TC3 being a prime example.

      2008 TC3 was the first meteorite, that was observed as an asteroid in the hours before impact – this allows to connect telescopic observations (in this case F-type) with the analysis of the found meteorite pieces (polymict ureilite achondrite).

      2008 TC3 was composed of ureilite, with most (if not all) ureilite meteorites most likely coming from one parent body.

      2008 TC3 furthermore contained material coming from 5 other parent bodies, which is unheard of.

      The consensus is that the ureilite parent body must formed outside of the asteroid belt, and that 2008 TC3 either formed after an impact of the parent body, and then migrated inwards, or that its pieces migrated inwards and then formed somewhere more inwards.

      For a piece of space rock that just recently fell on Earth, we are learning A LOT about our Solar System.

      There are probably more things we are learning from that piece of Solar System junk that rained down on our Earth, but I really need to step away from that topic before loose track of time and do nothing else then reading about this all day…

  6. “16 Psyche is one of the ten most massive asteroids in the asteroid belt. It is over 200 km in diameter and contains a little less than 1% of the mass of the entire asteroid belt. It is thought to be the exposed iron core of a protoplanet.” – Wikipedia (I know, I know)

    Certainly suggests the presence of a proto-planet sometime in the past. I wonder if it loaded with diamonds as well…..

    • There were lots of planetesimals and protoplanets in the past.

      Many loci in the protoplanetary disk around the young sun coalesced into Vesta to Mars-sized, spherical protoplanets. The gravity of Jupiter kept a planet (larger than dwarf planets Ceres and Vesta) from forming in the asteroid belt, and kicked many collision fragments (some of which became meteors) out of it during the hypothesized Late Heave Bombardment. Such protoplanets as survived eventually collided with the inner rocky planets or outer gas giants.

  7. As one who is still miffed at Pluto not being a planet any more due to it being too small to warrant planet-hood, how can they make this statement (my bold)?

    Scientists have long theorized that the early solar system once contained many more planets—some of which were likely little more than a mass of molten magma.

    • Pluto lost it’s planet-hood based not on it’s size but because it hasn’t cleared out it’s neighborhood. (We can argue till the cows come as to whether that’s a valid criteria.)

      Little in the bolded section doesn’t comment on the size of these early planets.
      However, like Pluto, these early “planets” had also not cleared out their orbits. Had they done so further collisions would have pretty much stopped.

  8. I thought diamonds were created by pressure and heat, not by planets. Regardless, this is intriguing. Like the meteorite NSA found that indicated traces of water on Mars. And the moon rock they sent to –Sweden, was it ?–for examination that turned out to be petrified wood. You never know what you might find out there when you’re wandering around in space.

  9. The solar system is missing a planet between Mars and Jupiter. It has been hypothesized that Jupiter caused this protoplanet to break apart and all we have in its place is the asteroid belt. I would think that after billions of years most of the mass of this protoplanet was absorbed by existing planets or lost to regions much farther away form the sun.

  10. Numerous asteroid bodies existed in our early solar system. The differentiation of meteorites tells us that much. Iron meteorites are only formed from the cores of asteroids that were large enough to stay hot long enough for the nickel-iron material to sink to the core of the asteroid and be concentrated there. That takes a fair sized body to keep from freezing in the cold of space with only radioactive decay to warm it.

  11. So, in planets that are liquid enough, at least during their formation, have heavy elements sinking to the core and lighter elements on the outside. Makes sense since heavier elements are just that, heavier and sink in the gravity well. But how do we explain that in a huge cosmic loud, lighter elements (hydrogen mainly) will aggregate and sink at the center to form a star but that heavier materials will stay outside the gravity well when everything else does not sink to that part of the gravity well. Wouldn’t any big cloud of gases and elements and whatnot just makes a huge planet with all heavy elements at the center and all gases at the periphery?

  12. As an armchair theorist I ask myself how do we know it is not coming from one of the existing planets?
    I mean it could be Earth or Mars after an impact a billion/couple of billion years ago? How can one eliminate this version?
    Or can this come from a ‘visitor’ to our solar system, like the one that was recently tracked?
    In this case the source planet being outside the solar system.

    I think all is based on the assumption (nature link) :
    “Ureilites are one of the main families of achondritic meteorites and their parent body is believed to have been catastrophically disrupted by an impact during the first 10 million years of the solar system.”

    Then the formation:
    “Recent observation(7) of a fragment of the Almahata Sitta ureilite (MS-170) revealed clusters of diamond single crystals that have almost identical crystallographic orientation, and separated by graphite bands. It was thus suggested that individual diamond single crystals as large as 100 μm existed in the sample, which have been later segmented through graphitization(7).”
    So the large crystals were not found inside but suggested – which begs the question – maybe a different process could lead to the formation of observed structure as mentioned inside: “(ii) growth by chemical vapor deposition (CVD) of a carbon-rich gas in the solar nebula(5)”. I wonder if such growth could create the observed structure.

    Well. yes, very interesting to see the whole rationing that can be done based on some indices found on a small stone :), thanks for posting it!

  13. I’ve been watching “How The Universe Works” on the ‘Science Channel’. Plenty of extra solar planetary systems have been discovered, including plenty of “Super Earths’- planets with 4 to 8 times Earth’s mass, but few ‘”Earth-Venus-Mars” sized planets. One hypothesis to explain the absence planets with masses between those of Earth and Neptune is that such “Super Earths” WERE formed in our solar system, but thanks to inward migration of Jupiter, most were eliminated by being hurled into the Sun, by being hurled into interstellar space, or by crashing against each other. According to this hypothesis, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars are SECOND GENERATION planets, formed from the scraps of those collisions of “Super Earth” planets. The diamonds in the meteorite may be a confirming datum for this hypothesis.

  14. From Wayne Job

    “I would go with the ancient Sumerian account of what befell our earth in collision with a large watery moon of a passing planet, it took a big chunk of earth that is now the southern oceans with little land mass. They say that is where we got most of our water from. Thus far their clay tablets have been very inciteful”.

    Sorry Wayne, the southern oceans are the result of the breakup of Gondwana. South America, Africa, India and Australia all moved north leaving Antarctica stranded over the South Pole. The South Pacific is not the result of a collision with another moon or asteroid but due to the wandering continents.
    See it in reverse here..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tObhGzHH2aw

    The Sumerians might have invented wheeled vehicles and sexagesimal arithmetic but they weren’t very strong on plate tectonics.

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