The Most Abundant Mineral in the World Finally Gets a Name

It’s so far underground, you’ve probably never heard of it

Chi Ma / Caltech

The most abundant mineral on earth? You’ve probably never heard of it. 

Until last week, the mineral didn’t have a name. The newly named bridgmanite has long been thought to be the most abundant mineral on earth, but scientists were unable to observe it closely, until now. 

That’s because bridgmanite’s favorite habitat is hundreds of miles under the earth’s surface, where it forms under really intense temperatures and pressures.

From the AGU’s JoAnna Wendel

The lower mantle is a place scientists can only dream of observing directly. Instead, [scientists Oliver] Tschauner and [Chi] Ma found submicrometer-sized crystals of the then yet-to-be-named bridgmanite in the Tenham meteorite, a space rock that fell in Queensland, Australia in 1879.

The meteorite formed 4.5 billion years ago, and has been “highly shocked,” meaning it survived high-energy impacts in space. These impacts submitted the meteor to intense pressure and temperature—much like what rocks in the Earth’s mantle experience, making it a likely source of bridgmanite.

The scientists were able to identify and describe small quantities of bridgmanite within the meteorite, which satisfied the last requirement needed before the mineral could receive a name.

Bridgmanite was named after Percy Williams Bridgman, a physicist who won a Nobel Prize in 1946. Bridgman invented a device that could produce extremely high pressures, which enabled him to observe the compression, plasticity, electrical resistivity, viscosity and other qualities of materials subjected to these extreme conditions.

Before this, the mineral had been known as silicate-perovskite. Which, we can all agree, doesn’t roll off the tongue nearly as easily as bridgmanite. 

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