A lightning strike has produced a brand new phosphorus mineral, similar to that found on meteorites and in space.
The bolt created a chemical reaction in a rock, leading to what could be a member of a new mineral group, somewhere between space minerals and minerals found on Earth.
And researchers believe strikes like this one might have produced chemicals that kick-started life on Earth.
The find was made following the strike on a tree in New Port Richey, Florida, when a fulgurite was sold by the landowners to a geoscientist who then had it analyzed.
Fulgurites are formed by the high-energy electrical discharge of lightning through rock, soil, and sand, melting them all together in a small tube—effectively making a fossil out of a lightning strike.
Fulgurites have been studied in the desert landscapes of the Sahara to try and map out the weather patterns of a pre-desertified North Africa.
“When lightning strikes a tree, the ground typically explodes out and the surrounding grass dies, forming a scar and sending electric discharge through nearby rock, soil, and sand, forming fulgurites,” said Professor Matthew Pasek, from the University of South Florida.
“Minerals similar to it can be found in meteorites and space, but we’ve never seen this exact material anywhere.
The study containing the discovery was published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, and came about after Professor Pasek teamed up with Luca Bindi, a professor of mineralogy and crystallography at the University of Florence in Italy.
Together, the team set out to investigate unusual minerals that bear the element phosphorus, especially those formed by lightning, to better understand high-energy phenomena.
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