August 14, 2009 - During recent research on our Persian salt lamps for this website, we came across some fascinating information about possible origins of Iranian purple salt crystal. We found that as recently as 1998, meteorites have impacted the Earth which carried both water and salt. This is not only interesting in regard to geoplanetary and cosmological science, but moreover this is intriguing because of the very similar, natural coloring of our salt lamps.
In our solar system, water is a very abundant compound; found in the polar regions and soil of Mars as well as in numerous frozen moons of the outer planets including Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. These icy satellites are possibly holding vast oceans below their surface too. Along with these, water is also quite plentiful in carbonaceous chondrites (carbon-bearing meteorites); known to have strong reactions with the water contained within the asteroids they are spawned from, creating a vast array of minerals. NASA scientists have also found these space rocks to have formed in the first 10 million years of of Solar System...making them roughly 4.56 billion years old!
Water has been found inside meteorites before, that's nothing new, but salt had not been revealed before in previously studied ordinary chondrites; that is, until 1998.
On March 22, 1998, at approximately 7pm, the first known meteorite containing purple and blue colored sodium chloride crashed in Monahans, Texas; landing just 25 meters from where several boys were playing basketball. The next day, another rock was found to have landed around 250 meters away by a local deputy sheriff. As is often the case, quarrels began over ownership of the fallen stones between city officials and the boys who initally found it. Eventually, a compromise was reached in the city putting the second piece on display, while the stone which fell near the basketball court was returned to the boys who found it by scientists at NASA's Johnson Space Center once they had completed their study. The boys' meteorite was later auctioned off for $23,000.
Later in 1998, around August 4th or 5th, another salt-laden meteor fell thousands of miles away in Zag, Morocco. This was spotted while falling by archaeologists in the area and later found broken in scattered pieces, weighing a total of 175kg (385 lbs). The space rock pieces were scooped up quickly by dealers and samples made available to a host of museums as well as to Michael Zolensky at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas.
The samples were split and opened in JSC labs by Michael Zolensky and his associates; also, samples were sent to Robert Bodner at Virgnia Tech who confirmed the presence of what is essentially the oldest known water in our solar system - yes, over 4.5 billion years old. This water, however, was a salty brine solution...not pure water or carbon dioxide.
G. Jeffrey Taylor, Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, wrote:
Monahans and Zag are ordinary chondrite meteorites that contain rock fragments in a fine-grain, dark matrix that is enriched in gases from the Sun. This means that they formed by compaction of the surface of an asteroid, which had been churned and fragmented by repeated impacts. Such meteorites, called regolith breccias, have been very informative about the nature of the interiors of asteroids and the history of the Sun. However, nobody had ever found salt in one of them.
When the sample of Monahans was cracked open in a clean lab at the Johnson Space Center, they saw purple areas up to 3 millimeters across. Closer study showed that the purple mineral was sodium chloride (NaCl), the same stuff we use for table salt. The decorative purple color (some is blue rather than purple) is due to exposure to cosmic rays while the meteorite was in space, and perhaps to radiation from the decay of radioactive potassium-40 in small grains of sylvite (potassium chloride, KCl) included in the sodium chloride. The presence of KCl inside NaCl is common in terrestrial salt deposits formed by evaporation of sea water.
Purple and blue sodium chloride in the Monahans meteorite.
Each image is 1 millimeter across.
There is nothing special about Monahans and Zag, except for the presence of salt. This suggests that other chondrite regolith breccias and perhaps other types of chondrites also contain salt. The usual procedures used to prepare samples for microscopic study use water, which would dissolve the salt. Meteorites that have been found after laying around for even a few months have gotten wet, leading to a loss of salt if it were present. Monahans and Zag were collected soon after they fell and kept dry until busted open.
Zolensky and his colleagues dissolved one milligram of salt from Monahans to extract the rubidium and strontium for age dating. This technique uses the fact that rubidium-87 decays into strontium-87. The data indicate that the salt in Monahans is the same age as other chondrites, 4.56 billion years. Thus, the salt formed very early in the history of the asteroid in which the Monahans meteorite formed.
Very interesting indeed, both the information and the similarity of our Persian salt with the images above, the chunks that are formed into our lamps are predominantly light and dark shades purple, and purple with white. On the surface are blue specks randomly scattered across the outer surface as well as the interior of the salt lamp; brilliant blue specks embedded within purple salt. The connection is and easy to make, is it not? We aren't making assumption or conclusions, we aren't scientists...but we'd be very interested in finding out if it is true that the purple Persian salt lamps we carry are all, or in part, as old as the Solar System and cosmically linked.
G. JEFFERY TAYLOR, 1999. Purple Salt and Tiny Drops of Water in Meteorites [online] Planetary Science Research Discoveries, Hawaii. Available from: http://www.psrd.hawaii.edu/Nov99/PurpleSalt.html [Accessed 11 July 2009]
KEITH COWING, 2000. Meteorite Found to Contain Water From Our Solar System's Infancy [online] SpaceRef Interactive Inc. Available from: http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=157 [Accessed 12 July 2009]
RON COWEN, 1999. Found: Primordial Water, S Meteorites Salty Tale [online] Science News. Available from: http://www.sciencenews.org/sn_arc99/10_30_99/bob2.htm [Accessed 21 July 2009]