PRINCETON, N.J., Jan. 3 (UPI) -- It turns out unusual crystals found in Russia weren't formed on Earth, researchers say, but rather came from outer space.
The so-called quasicrystals, with an unusual structure somewhere between crystals and glass, had only been previously created in laboratories before they were discovered in Russia's Koryak Mountains in 2009, the BBC reported Tuesday.
Now a team of researchers says the chemistry of the Russian crystals suggests they arrived in meteorites.
Quasicrystals break some of the rules of symmetry that apply to conventional crystalline structures, and it remained unknown what natural processes could create this "forbidden symmetry."
Now Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University, with Luca Bindi of the University of Florence, Italy, and his colleagues who discovered the crystals in Russia, say tests point to an extra-terrestrial origin for the minerals.
Measurements of different forms, or isotopes, of the element oxygen contained in parts of the rock sample shows the pattern of isotopes was unlike any known minerals that originated on Earth.
It was instead similar to patterns found in a type of meteorite known as a carbonaceous chondrite, meaning the quasicrystals in the Russian samples could date back to the very earliest days of the solar system, they said.
"Our evidence indicates that quasicrystals can form naturally under astrophysical conditions and remain stable over cosmic timescales," the researchers said.