We found a new mineral harder than diamond (and it’s from space!)

News hardware We found a new mineral harder than diamond (and it’s from space!)

55 years after its first discovery in Arizona, Lonsdaleite, named after famed chemist Kathleen Lonsdale, is finally being recognized as a mineral in its own right and its properties are astounding!

Understanding the Strength and Hardness of Minerals on the Mohs Scale

Before returning to this amazing discovery and to understand what its real impact is, it is important to talk about the Mohs scale and explain what it consists of.

The Mohs scale was developed in 1812 by the German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs (hence the name…) to measure the hardness of minerals. Historically, it was based on ten common minerals, ranked from softest to hardest.

The principle of this scale is the opposition of minerals to each other and their ability to dig against each other. Therefore, since this measure exists, the diamond is the reference of the item with a score of 10 out of 10. In other words, it can only rub against another diamond.

Below, in 9 out of 10, we see Ruby and Sapphire, grouped in the “Corundum” family, which we know very well because it is what equips hiking screens and high mountain watches especially. Sapphire has the particularity of being available in large quantities, inexpensive and easy to use. Then comes Topaz (8/10), Quartz (7/10) etc…

We found a new mineral harder than diamond (and it's from space!)

Then, as the discoveries and uses progressed, the Mohs scale was attributed to a whole host of new stones and minerals, such as Amethyst, Opal, Coral or even Pearls, where we know if why are they so fragile and so valuable with their 2.5 rating. /10.

To draw a parallel with everyday objects and better understand what corresponds, for example, to the famous tempered glass protections that we put on our smartphones, we give you one last little table:

hardness Examples
2.5 Salt, nails
2.5 to 3 Gold, silver, copper
5.5 Glass, ordinary steel
6.5 Tempered glass and steel

Lonsdaleite, what is it, where does it come from and why does it harm diamonds?

As you can see, diamond has been the standard of hardness for centuries and many people swear by it. However, as we mentioned at the beginning of this article, for almost half a century, we have proof that a new mineral, which is more resistant, but also more flexible, actually exists.

This mineral is Lonsdaleite and for a long time, it was simply confused with diamond, thinking that it was nothing more or less a strange and abnormal shape of the latter. Except that in fact, after recent studies, it has been noted that this is what chemistry calls an allotrope of elemental carbon, like diamond found in the form of cubes while Lonsdaleite is in hexagonal form.

RMIT researchers

We found a new mineral harder than diamond (and it's from space!)

This is all for the technical side, and to get back to our sheep, if Lonsdaleite is on the rise lately, it’s because Australian researchers from the respected Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) have simply discovered what they thought which are strangely bent diamonds in samples of… meteorites.

Except that, as explained above, diamond is certainly very resistant, but also completely rigid. This mineral is not, in fact, diamond, but actually Lonsdaleite.

The story could have ended there, but this study tells us that the samples of meteorites in which Lonsdaleite was discovered were of extraterrestrial origin and would have been created during a cataclysm that occurred 4.5 billion years ago on an ancient dwarf planet when the solar system was still forming!

Fragment of a meteorite, in pink is diamond and in yellow is lonsdaleite

We found a new mineral harder than diamond (and it's from space!)

It would be a great discovery if we knew that this “new” mineral will therefore be 50% more resistant than diamonds! How to review the Mohs scale.

The last word for Andy Tomkins, professor of Earth and planetary sciences and author of this study published on the PNAS website:

Thus nature has given us a process to try to reproduce the industry. We believe that lonsdaleite can be used to make small, extremely hard machine parts if we can develop an industrial process that promotes the replacement of preformed graphite parts with lonsdaleite.

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