In 2009, scientists made a groundbreaking discovery that was ultimately traced to a remote corner of the world. In a box obtained from the Italian Museum of Natural History in Florence, Italy, they found a small grain of extraterrestrial mineral that was formed shortly after the birth of our solar system, 4.5 billion years ago. The mineral came from an area near the Koryak Mountains in eastern Siberia, and was delivered to Earth by an object known as the Khatyrka meteorite. The latter was discovered only after researchers returned to the area in search of more exotic minerals in 2011.
This new rock has been designated as a quasicrystal, in recognition of its unique structural properties. A quasicrystal looks like a normal crystal on the outside, but on the inside it is noticeably different. While the atoms in a pure crystal are arranged in constantly repeating patterns, the atomic lattices inside the quasicrystal are both ordered and diverse, displaying a range of shapes never before seen in a natural substance.
More than 100 synthetic versions of these minerals have been produced in laboratories, between 1982 and the present day. Until these experiments, such a form of matter had never been seen before, and in the past had been believed to be theoretically impossible according to accepted ideas about the laws of nature. Previously the only thing ever found were crystals, with their rigidly repetitive patterns, and so-called normal solids, which are comprised of atoms arranged in no particular order.