Antarctica has much in your favor when it comes to meteor hunting. The dark rocks stand out against the icy landscape. Its dry climate keeps weathering to a minimum. And even when meteorites sink into the ice, they are often blown back to the surface by churning up glaciers.
Despite these ideal conditions, it is rare to find sizable chunks of space rock.
A group of researchers has just returned from the ice-covered continent with five new meteorites including one unusually large specimen.
The big find from this haul weighs 7.6 kilograms (16.8 pounds), putting it in the top 100 in terms of size of meteorites recovered from Antarctica over the past century. Given that some 45,000 have recovered in that time, that’s saying something.
This space rock monster is now being brought back to the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, where it will be closely studied alongside with the smallest rocks. Scientists can learn a lot from the journeys of meteorites. have had our planet.
“Size doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to meteorites, and even tiny micrometeorites can be incredibly valuable scientifically.” says the cosmochemist María Valdés, from the Field Museum of Illinois. “But of course finding a large meteorite like this is rare and really exciting.”
While meteorites may be easier to spot in Antarctica, the continent isn’t exactly easy to traverse, with its extremely cold conditions and remote location. The team involved in this find spent several days camping in the wild, moving around on foot and on snowmobiles.
It also helps to know where meteorites are likely to be found. Here the researchers used a ‘treasure map’ that was published last yearwhich uses clues found in satellite imagery, such as ice flow, temperature, and surface slope measurements, to make informed guesses with the help of AI about where new rocks may be found.
“Going on an adventure exploring unknown areas is exciting,” says geoscientist Vinciane Debaillefrom the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium.
“But we also had to deal with the fact that the reality on the ground is much more difficult than the beauty of the satellite images.”
The map used by the researchers is believed to be around 80 percent accurate in terms of the directions it gives, and its creators have calculated that there are more than 300,000 meteorites in Antarctica waiting to be found.
Despite the favorable conditions in Antarctica for the discovery of meteorites, scientists believe that we are still getting lost finding many of them, particularly those with high iron content. Part of the reason could be that these types of meteorites are heated by sunlight, melting the surrounding ice and sinking out of sight below the surface.
Now, however, there are an exciting new number of these rocks ready and waiting for a closer look, and somewhere in the newly recovered meteorites there should be traces of the history of the Solar System in which we existed.
“The larger the sample size we have of meteorites, the better we can understand our Solar System and the better we can understand ourselves.” says Valdes.
Leave a Comment