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The Largest Piece Of The Oldest Volcanic Rock Known To Exist At The Maine Mineral & Gem Museum

For Immediate Release: 3.9.2021

Weighing nearly 10 pounds, it may just be the largest piece of a 4.565 billion year old protoplanet

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has just announced the oldest volcanic rock known to exist.  It originated from a protoplanet in the asteroid belt a tiny portion of which arrived on Earth in the form of a meteorite shower whose strewn field was discovered in the Sahara Desert in 2020.

Said Jean-Alix Barrat at the University of Western Brittany in New Scientist, “I have been working on meteorites for more than 20 years now, and this is possibly the most fantastic new meteorite I have ever seen.” It was named by a panel of scientists Erg Chech 002 as it is the second distinct meteorite found in the Erg Chech region of the Sahara.

The largest piece of Erg Chech 002 — it weighs approximately 10 pounds — is at the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum.  Coincidentally, the oldest igneous rock in the solar system previously known, NWA 11119 — of which there is only one single meteorite known — is also on display at the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum.  “We are so incredibly proud and delighted to offer to our community such important and internationally notable specimens at the MMGM” said Museum Director Barbra Barrett.

The MMGM contains what is among greatest meteorite collections in the world including the largest piece of the Moon on Earth — as well as most of the Moon on Earth, more of the planet Mars than any other institution and the largest chunk of the asteroid Vesta. All of the aforementioned were sourced by Darryl Pitt who assembled this collection on behalf of the Museum.

Erg Chech 002 formed just two million years after the formation of the solar system, 4.565 billion years ago. The fact that protoplanets broke up early in our solar system’s history presents a challenge to researchers — one which has been mitigated by this discovery: other remnants of the protoplanet from which this originated may have been completely pulverized.   “When you go close to the beginning of the solar system, it’s more and more complicated to get samples,” said Barrat. “We probably will not find another sample older than this one.”

But this and far, far more are at the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2026129118

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