Antarctica has it So much for it when it comes to meteorite hunting. Dark rocks stand out against the icy landscape. Its dry climate keeps the elements to a minimum. Even when meteorites sink into the ice, they are often brought back to the surface by rippling glaciers.
Despite these ideal conditions, finding large pieces of space rock is rare.
A group of researchers has just returned from the ice-covered continent with five new meteorites that include an unusually large sample.
The large find in this stretch weighed 7.6 kg (16.8 lb), which puts it in the top 100 by volume for meteorites recovered in Antarctica over the past century. Considering that about 45,000 people have been recovered in that time, that’s saying something.
This beast of a space rock is now being returned to the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, where it will be closely studied all along with smaller rocks. Scientists can learn a lot from the journeys that meteorites take was on our planet.
“Size doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to meteorites, and even tiny micrometeorites can be incredibly valuable scientifically.” says cosmologist Maria ValdesFrom the Field Museum in Illinois. “But of course, finding a large meteorite like this is really rare and exciting.”
While it may be easier to spot meteorites in Antarctica, with its freezing cold conditions and remote location, the continent is not easy to travel across. The team involved in the discovery spent several days camping in the wilderness, traveling on foot and snowmobile.
It also helps to know where the meteorites are likely to be. Here the researchers used a “treasure map” that was published last yearwhich uses clues found in satellite imagery — such as ice flow, temperature and measurements of surface slopes — to make informed, AI-assisted guesses as to where to find new rocks.
“Going on an adventure to explore unknown regions is exciting,” says geologist Vincent Debaylefrom the Free University of Brussels 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 satellite imagery.”
The map used by the researchers is believed to be about 80 percent accurate in terms of the directions it provides, and its makers have calculated that there are more than 300,000 meteorites out there in Antarctica, just waiting to be found.
Despite the favorable conditions in Antarctica for the discovery of meteorites, scientists believe that we Still missing Find plenty of them, especially those with a high iron content. Part of the reason may be that these types of meteorites are heated in sunlight, causing the surrounding ice to melt and sink out of sight below the surface.
However, there is now an exciting new batch of these rocks ready and waiting to be looked at up close – and somewhere in the newly recovered meteorites must be relics of the history of the solar system in which we reside.
“The larger the sample size of meteorites we have, the better we can understand our solar system, and the better we can understand ourselves,” Valdes says.