Important clues to the environment in which the early Earth formed may be emerging from Purdue University scientists recent study of a particular class of meteorites.
Purdue Universitys Michael E. Lipschutz analyzed enstatite chondrite meteorites in a recent study of the materials near Earth at the dawn of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago. Data from the study may offer clues into the conditions under which the Earth formed, evidence of which no longer exists in terrestrial stone. (NASA photo/ID number S91-41199)
By examining the chemistry of 29 chunks of rock that formed billions of years ago, probably in close proximity to our planet, two Purdue researchers, Michael E. Lipschutz and Ming-Sheng Wang, have clarified our understanding of the conditions present in the vicinity of the ancient Earths orbit. Because direct evidence for these conditions is lacking in terrestrial samples, the scientists believe that the composition of these so-called enstatite chondrite (EC) meteorites could offer a window into the planets distant past.
"What happened to these rocks most likely happened to the Earth in its early stages – with one great exception," said Lipschutz, a professor of chemistry in Purdues College of Science. "Shortly after the early Earth formed, an object the size of Mars smashed into it, and the heat from the cataclysm irrevocably altered the geochemical makeup of our entire planet. These EC meteorites, however, are likely formed of matter similar to that which formed the early Earth, but they were not involved in this great collision and so were not chemically altered. They might be the last remaining pristine bits of the material that became the planet beneath our feet."
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