Hypatia Stone The Mysterious Alien Rock

The Hypatia stone named after Hypatia of Alexandria - a leading mathematician and astronomer in the fourth century - first discovered in 1996 by Aly A. Barakat in Egypt. It was either part of a comet which existed before the creation of planets, only to be dragged into Earth's orbit eons later. It is thought to have been part of the body whose impact caused the creation of Libyan desert glass. It probably fell to Earth about 28 million years ago. It has a very unusual chemical composition, parts of it could be older than the solar system. But new research shows they are even more alien than we thought.

The original rock that fell to Earth must have been at least several metres in diameter, they say, but disintegrated into small fragments of which the Hypatia stone is one. The stone itself is also broken into smaller sections, described by the researchers as pebbles, around one centimetre (0.4 inches) in size or smaller.

"When Hypatia was first found to be extraterrestrial, it was a sensation, but these latest results are opening up even bigger questions about its origins," said Dr Marco Andreoli, a research fellow at the School of Geosciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, and a researcher on the study.

In 1996, Dr Barakat immediately recognised the unique significance of the glossy stone, which is lined with microscopic diamonds. In 2013, Professor Jan Kramers of the UJ research team and his co-authors announced that Hypatia was definitely not from Earth. However, by 2015, other research teams had announced that the stone was not part of any known types of meteorite or comet, based on noble gas and nuclear probe analyses. 

"What we do know is that Hypatia was formed in a cold environment, probably at temperatures below that of liquid nitrogen on Earth (-196 Celsius). In our solar system it would have been way further out than the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where most meteorites come from. Comets come mainly from the Kuiper Belt, beyond the orbit of Neptune and about 40 times as far away from the sun as we are. Some come from the Oort Cloud, even further out. We know very little about the chemical compositions of space objects out there. So our next question will dig further into where Hypatia came from," said Professor Kramers.


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