Israeli Company Finds New ‘Outer Space’ Mineral on Earth

Created by volcanic blasts in Cretaceous Israel, Shefa Yamim’s carmeltazite is like sapphire, in chemical composition and sometimes in look too

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Polished carmeltazite
Polished carmeltazite: A very rare gemstone found so far only in Israel, which the company calls Carmel Sapphire™.Credit: Shefa Yamim (a.t.m) Ltd.
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

A mineral new to science has been found inside bits of volcanic rock in a valley below Mount Carmel, northern Israel, a group of scientists revealed last month.

The dark-colored new mineral, called carmeltazite, was formed by the eruption of some rather puny volcanoes along the Carmel crest some time during the Cretaceous, when dinosaurs were prowling the land, geologists say.

In fact, the mineral mix constituting carmeltazite has been identified in rocks from outer space, says Abraham Taub, CEO of the Israeli gemstone-mining company, Shefa Yamim, that found it.

But this is the first time it’s been found on Earth, he says.

How did a rock better known in outer space wind up in the Zevulun Valley by the Carmel? Back in the Cretaceous, as much as a quarter-billion years ago (and earlier too), there were no fewer than 14 volcanic vents along the crest of the Carmel, that’s how, Taub tells Haaretz. Over eons, the lava would have eroded and minerals within it would also have flowed down streams to the valleys spilling into the Mediterranean.

News of the discovery, which Shefa Yamim people made on the Carmel, has done absolutely nothing for the share price of the company – a smallcap firm listed on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (the holding company) with a subsidiary on the London Stock Exchange.

Credit: Source: TheMarker Finance

On Monday, Shefa Yamim stated that its same-name subsidiary had received confirmation from the International Mineralogical Association that the mineral would be registered as a new one. Evidently, English investors were unmoved as well, since Shefa’s London share price began tanking last September and hasn’t recovered since.

Taub seems equally unmoved by the market’s cold shoulder. “Investors in Israel don’t understand,” he told Haaretz, in the context of his company’s endeavors. In any case, the company with the licenses is the London-listed one and it’s very new there, just listed from last year. “The market doesn’t know us yet,” he said.

While investors seem clammy to the revelation, chemists and geologists were delighted to discover the new form of rock – which was found in pockets of trapped rock-melt either within, or in the cracks of, crystalline material within volcanic rock on Mount Carmel.

Its properties were studied for more than three years by Prof. Bill Griffin of Macquarie University, Sydney, with academics from the University of Western Australia, the University of Florence and the University of Milan, the company says.

How on earth does one identify a new rock within a rock? Well, after it discovered another rarity – earth-bound moissanite along the banks of the Kishon – Shefa Yamim was contacted by Griffin, Taub explains. “Moissanite is rarer and more expensive than diamonds and only tiny amounts smaller than one millimeter were found. We found much larger minerals,” he says.

Carmeltazites are forever

Driven by the expectation of finding precious stones along such streambeds, Shefa Yamim has been exploring along the bed of the Kishon Stream. Over time its efforts – involving collecting soil, washing and filtering it – have found rubies, sapphires and more, says Taub.

Griffin is the one whose lab identified the carmeltazite, the CEO adds. Writing in the journal Minerals, he, the team and Vered Toledo of Shefa Yamim say carmeltazite contains titanium, aluminum and zirconium (and oxygen). In fact, the name carmeltazite is based on Mount Carmel and the aforementioned dominant metals present in the mineral.

The carmeltazite was found within sapphires, Shefa Yamim adds. Both regular sapphires and carmeltazite are based on crystalline aluminum oxide, this is true. Carmeltazite’s specific formula is ZrAl2Ti4O11.

In color, carmeltazite is black with a tendency to reddish streaks and a metallic luster, though if one squints through various instruments one can discern dark browns and greens. And white spots (“It depends on the angle of light,” Taub observes). Internal reflections are absent, the geologists add in their characterization of it.

Density testing shows that carmeltazite is harder than diamond, Taub says, and is therefore suitable for jewelry.

So, will you be able to buy your dog a collar studded with carmeltazite? Not quite yet. But if the new rock makes it into the world of gems – which it should given that the company is working on designs, says Taub – expect to pay through the nose. “Gemstone prices are usually a function of their rarity,” Taub points out.

While he thinks his company has located seven or eight potential locations along the Kishon for gemstones, including carmeltazite, at this point it remains rarer than diamonds.

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