A comprehensive study of noble gases and nitrogen in "Hypatia", a diamond-rich pebble from SW Egypt

Guillaume Avice, Matthias M.M. Meier, Bernard Marty, Rainer Wieler, Jan D. Kramers, Falko Langenhorst, Pierre Cartigny, Colin Maden, Laurent Zimmermann, Marco A.G. Andreoli

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7 Citations (Scopus)


This is a follow-up study of a work by Kramers et al. (2013) on a very unusual diamond-rich rock fragment found in the area of south west Egypt in the south-western side of the Libyan Desert Glass strewn field. This pebble, called Hypatia, is composed of almost pure carbon. Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) and X-ray diffraction (XRD) results reveal that Hypatia is mainly made of defect-rich diamond containing lonsdaleite and multiple deformation bands. These characteristics are compatible with an impact origin on Earth and/or in space. We also analyzed concentrations and isotopic compositions of all five noble gases and nitrogen in several ~mg sized Hypatia samples. These data confirm the conclusion by Kramers et al. (2013) that Hypatia is extra-terrestrial. The sample is relatively rich in trapped noble gases with an isotopic composition being close to the Q component found in many types of meteorites. 40Ar/36Ar ratios in individual steps are as low as 0.4±0.3. Cosmic-ray produced "cosmogenic" 21Ne is present in concentrations corresponding to a nominal cosmic-ray exposure (CRE) age of roughly 0.1 Myr if produced in a typical meter-sized meteoroid. Such an atypically low nominal CRE age suggests high shielding in a considerably larger body. In addition to the Xe-Q composition, an excess of radiogenic 129Xe (from the decay of short-lived radioactive 129I) is observed (Xe129/Xe132=1.18+/-0.03). Two isotopically distinct N components are present, an isotopically heavy component (δN15~+20‰) released at low temperatures and a major isotopically light component (δN15~-110‰) at higher temperatures. This disequilibrium in N suggests that the diamonds in Hypatia were formed in space rather than upon impact on Earth (δNatm15=0‰). All our data are broadly consistent with concentrations and isotopic compositions of noble gases in at least three different types of carbon-rich meteoritic materials: carbon-rich veins in ureilites, graphite in acapulcoites/lodranites and graphite nodules in iron meteorites. However, Hypatia does not seem to be directly related to any of these materials, but may have sampled a similar cosmochemical reservoir. Our study does not confirm the presence of exotic noble gases (e.g. G component) that led Kramers et al. (2013) to propose that Hypatia is a remnant of a comet nucleus that impacted the Earth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-253
Number of pages11
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2015


  • Graphite
  • Meteorites
  • Nitrogen
  • Noble gases
  • Phase Q

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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