“We’ve never seen this material occur naturally on Earth – minerals similar to it can be found in meteorites and in space, but we haven’t seen this exact material anywhere,” said geoscientist Matthew Pasek. The scientist from the University of South Florida is one of the authors of a recent study published in Earth and Environment Communications It examines how high-energy events such as lightning can cause unique chemical reactions. The article draws attention to an event in Florida, when lightning struck a tree in a New Port Richey neighborhood and the impact created new phosphorus – which may represent a member of a new mineral group.
“When lightning strikes a tree, the ground usually explodes and the grass around it dies, forming a scar and sending an electrical discharge through nearby rocks, soil, and sand, forming fulgurite, also known as ‘petrified lightning,'” Pasek explains.
One of those rock-shaped rays the owners of New Port Richey had discovered, and on the assumption that it might be valuable, decided to sell it. Pasek bought it and later began collaborating with Luca Bindi, a professor of mineralogy and crystallography at the University of Florence, Italy, to investigate unusual minerals like this one, which bears the element phosphorus. The goal was to better understand high energy phenomena. But beyond that, within fulgurite, a colorful, crystal-like substance revealed a substance that had not been discovered before.
In humid environments like Florida, Pasek says iron often builds up and decomposes in tree roots. In this case, the lightning not only burned out the iron in the roots of the tree, but also the natural carbon in the tree. These two elements triggered a chemical reaction that resulted in the formation of fulgurite, which resembles a “globe” of mineral.
After identification, study co-author Tian Feng (University of South Florida) tried to remake the material in the laboratory, but the experiment was not successful, which indicates, according to the scientist, that the material probably forms quickly under the exact conditions, and if it is heated for a long time. , it will turn into the metal found in meteorites.
Feng further says that this research may reveal that other forms of reducing metals are plausible and that many of them could be important in the evolution of life on Earth. On the other hand, Pasek notes, it is unlikely that this material could be mined for uses similar to those of other phosphates, such as fertilizers, given its rarity in natural occurrence.
However, the team from Florida, led by Pasek, and from Florence, where Bindi is located, plan to further investigate the material to determine if it can be officially declared a mineral and to raise awareness in the scientific community.
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