In 2007, Steinhardt and his cohorts pored over a collection of rocks belonging to Luca Bindi of the University of Florence. One of those specimens,found in the Koryak Mountains, exhibited a quasicrystalline pattern.
A mass spectroscopy analysis revealed unusual ratios of oxygen atoms and their isotopes, matching the ratios typically found inside a certain type of meteorite known as a carbonaceous chondrite. The samples also contained silica, suggesting it had formed under high pressure conditions.
Steinhardt and his colleagues hypothesized that the most likely scenario is that the quasicrystal found in the Koryak Mountains fell to Earth inside a meteorite, outlined in their paper published in the Jan. 2 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
But in order to definitively prove this hypothesis, Steinhardt had to verify that the sample was, indeed, from that region. The paper merely states that the year-long forensic investigation had "more twists and turns than can be recounted here," while the press release offers tantalizing hints that those twists and turns involved "secret diaries, smugglers, gold prospectors and bears." (I hereby offer to buy Steinhardt a drink, just to hear his swashbuckling tale of adventure in the way such tales were meant to be told.)