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Chemistry In Pictures

Chemistry in Pictures: Crystal from outer space

by Manny I. Fox Morone
November 20, 2023

A close up view of a cutaway from a pallasite meteorite shows lustrous metal interrupted by and rough greenish yellow crystals.
Credit: Chip Clark/Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History

The people at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History were nice enough to give a couple members of the Chemistry in Pictures team a behind-the-scenes look at their mineral collection. For the next couple weeks, we’ll bring you photos of some of the minerals that wowed us, some of which are billions of years old.

These greenish yellow crystals were found in a rare type of meteorite called a pallasite. Unlike the large iron crystals we featured recently that come from asteroids’ cores, pallasites are thought to originate in the boundary between an asteroid’s mantle and core. The mingling of metal and olivine—magnesium iron silicate—represents the variation of materials found in those two layers. Although it’s rare in meteorites, olivine is relatively common in Earth’s crust: when it’s found in gemstone quality, it’s better known as peridot, the birthstone of August.

Two gloved hands hold a metoerite sample in a Smithsonian laboratory. The sample is about the size of a large shoe and is a mingling of lustrous metal and greenish yellow crystals.
Credit: Brianna Barbu/C&EN

In writing this post, the Chemistry in Pictures team realized we actually published another post with the same title. Those crystals didn’t come from an asteroid. They were grown by astronauts on the International Space Station. But we think the post is still worth your time to check out.

Credit: Chip Clark/Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History (close-up), Brianna Barbu/C&EN (large sample)

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