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A rare, naturally formed mineral has been found in the aftermath of a lightning bolt

The perfect storm of events led to the creation of a never-before-seen, naturally-occurring mineral.

Ten years ago, lightning struck a tree in New Port Richey, sending electricity into the soil around it. This event led to the never-before-seen creation of a mineral in the surrounding rocks.

Mathew Pasek, professor of geology at the University of South Florida, bought those rocks on eBay and had them tested.

What he found was the only instance of naturally-forming phosphorus crystals that had ever been recorded.

In a study conducted by Pasek, he attributed the creation of the mineral to the unique chemical reactions that occur from lightning.

“When lightning strikes a tree, the ground typically explodes out and the surrounding grass dies, forming a scar and sending electric discharge through nearby rock, soil and sand, forming fulgurites, also known as ‘fossilized lightning’,” Pasek said.

"In this case, it trapped some phosphate grains, and formed a phosphite, which we have never seen in nature before."

While visually, the phosphite crystals aren't very big — only around the width of a human hair — Pasek believes the implications of their creation could mean big things in the future.

"It may help us identify how to better recycle phosphorus in the environment and improve sustainability."

Phosphorus is commonly used in everyday items such as fertilizer, however, the minerals used in those products were made in laboratories.

Officials believe it is unlikely that the mineral could be mined effectively for use as fertilizer given how rare it is — and how impossible it is to create artificially.

Geologists have tried to repeat the creation of the mineral in the laboratory by recreating the conditions of the lightning strike, but have not had any success. According to Pasek, the timing of the lightning was the key factor that lead to the crystallization of the phosphite.

Thomas Ouellette is is the WUSF Rush Family / USF Zimmerman Radio News intern for spring of 2023.