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Dec 10, 2019

New kind of alien ‘mineral’ created on Earth

Posted by in category: alien life

Morgan Cable crafts alien environments in miniature. She can stir up a shot-glass-size lake, unleash gentle spritzes of rain, and whip up other wonders to mimic the bizarre surface of Saturn’s moon Titan. In this far-flung world, temperatures plunge hundreds of degrees Fahrenheit below zero, and rivers of liquid methane and ethane sculpt valleys into a frozen landscape of water ice.

“We can, in a way, touch Titan here in the lab—even though it’s millions of miles away,” says Cable, who is a scientist in the Astrobiology and Oceans Worlds Group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

While they’ve been working with these mini worlds for years, the team’s latest tiny Titan facsimile is making waves: By mixing acetylene and butane in a novel way, they’ve created a previously unknown type of “mineral.” The new substance doesn’t precisely fall under the common definition of an earthly mineral, since it still requires confirmation that it can form in nature. Instead, it is technically known as a co-crystal.

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