A new mineral, named panguite, has been discovered by Caltech researchers examining the Allende meteorite that broke up in the skies over northern Mexico on February 8, 1969. Panguite, an oxide of titanium, becomes the ninth new mineral to be discovered in the meteorite by the team since 2007.

Panguite was discovered using an electron microscope, examining what is known as an ultra-refractory inclusion, a scientific term for the oldest, least volatile objects within meteorites. Panguite's discoverers have therefore concluded that the mineral would have been one of the first solid materials in the solar system and is therefore in the order of 4.5 billion years old.

"Panguite is an especially exciting discovery since it is not only a new mineral, but also a material previously unknown to science," said Caltech's Chi Ma, an author of the paper in which the discovery was described.

Occurring in grains only 1.8 µm to 500 nm in size, the panguite samples were too minuscule for researchers to determine properties such as its color, hardness or refractive index. However, they were able to determine that it is opaque, and calculated its density at 3.746 g per cubic cm (2.165 ounces per cubic inch).

The scientists named the material for Pangu, the creator of Chinese mythology whose cleaving of Yin from Yang with his mighty axe created the Earth and sky. The name has been accepted by The Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification of the International Mineralogical Association.

Chi Ma and co-authors Oliver Tschauner, John R. Beckett, George R. Rossman and Wenjun Liu set out their research in the paper Panguite, a new ultra-refractory titania mineral from the Allende meteorite: Synchrotron micro-diffraction and EBSD (PDF), published in the July edition of American Mineralogist.