In the rugged hills of Scotland, scientists have stumbled across something absolutely out-of-this-world: the impact site of 60-million-year-old meteorite and mineral forms never reported on Earth before.
Geologists discovered two meteorite crash sites at the base of a 60-million-year-old lava flow on the Isle of Skye off the northwest coast of Scotland. “We thought it was an ignimbrite (a volcanic flow deposit),” lead author Simon Drake, an associate lecturer in geology at Birkbeck University of London, said in a statement.
However, they carried out analysis of the rocks using electron microprobe that revealed the presence of vanadium-rich and niobium-rich osbornite, rare minerals straight from outer space that ever never been seen in this form on Earth before. We do know about these mineral forms, however, from the work carried by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft mission to gather space dust flinging off from the comet 81P/Wild 2 comet. They also discovered traces of reidite, a rare mineral only previously known from just three meteorite impacts, as well as other exotic mineralogy linked to impacts such as barringerite and native iron.
Thin section view of meteoritic ejecta deposit site 1. Note fractured quartz and pervasive fabric. Field of view 4 mm XPolars. Simon Drake.
According to their study, published in the journal Geology this week, the two meteorites must have struck somewhere between 60 million and 61.4 million years ago, based on the age of the overlying lava flow and the geology below the impact site.
There are still many questions to answer, however. For one, was the outpouring of lava related to the meteorite site? Furthermore, scientists are not even 100 percent certain about the exact impact site of the meteorite.
The Isle of Skye is pretty well known to geologists studying strange mineralogy, making this discovery all the more surprising. However, the researchers note that the nearby area is surrounded by an unpleasant bog, making it relatively hard to reach.
“We were sinking in up to our thighs. I distinctly recall saying to [ the study’s co-author] Andy Beard, ‘this had better be worth it,'” says Drake.
“It was worth it.”
Recessed meteoritic ejecta layer site 1.1-m-thick deposit beneath thick sequence of basaltic lava flows. Simon Drake.