Diamonds found inside the Diablo Canyon meteorite have the potential to transform technology thanks to their unusual structure and pattern.

In an article published by UCL on Monday, July 18, 2022, it was revealed that diamonds found inside a 50,000-year-old asteroid give can further understanding of asteroid impacts. The exceptional properties of the newly-discovered structure can allow us to possibly create entirely new materials.

The findings were first publicized in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Asteroid, artwork
Asteroid, computer artwork.

Scientists examined the Canyon Diablo iron meteorite

Although the study was led by UCL and Hungarian scientists, the Canyon Diablo meteorite was also analyzed by scientists from Italy and France for the project. Canyon Diablo was the result of an asteroid collision that occurred about 50,000 years ago and was first found in 1891 in Arizona. 

The research team evaluated a mineral called lonsdaleite from the meteorite and according to UCL, it was “previously thought to consist of pure hexagonal diamond”, differentiating it from the common cubic diamond.

The new discovery, however, found that it is in fact an interlocking form of diamond and graphite, aptly named diaphites.

Lonsdaleite was named after Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, who pioneered research into the movement of atoms within crystals and was the first female professor at UCL.

Kathleen Lonsdale
Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

What are the benefits of the discovery?

Most diamonds are formed 150 – 200 km below the surface of the Earth, where temperatures average at 900 to 1,300 degrees Celsius. The pressure required is 45 to 60 kilobars (about 50,000 times of the Earth’s surface atmospheric pressure), states Cape Town Diamond Museum.

In contrast, londaleite’s hexogonal crystal structure can only be formed at extremely high temperatures and pressures, therefore its discovery can aid in the understanding of pressure-temperature conditions during asteroid impacts.

The unique properties of it also signify the possibility to create materials that are “both ultra-hard and ductile, as well as have adjustable electronic properties from a conductor to an insulator,” explains study co-author Professor Christoph Salzmann of UCL Chemistry. This means that faster charging or new kinds of electronics are a possibility, as per Interesting Engineering.

Shockwaves caused by asteroids colliding with Earth create materials with a range of complex carbon structures, which could be used for advancing future engineering applications, according to an international study led by UCL and Hungarian scientists.

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