Most people don’t know this, but Antarctica is actually an oasis for rocks that fall on Earth from space. In the last 100 years, scientists have recovered about 45,000 meteorites in this frozen continent alone.
However, only a small number (around 100) of those space rocks are as heavy as the newly found meteorite, which weighs 16.7 pounds (7.57 kg).
This meteorite is among the five space rocks a team of international researchers recently discovered in Antarctica.
Research scientist at the Field Museum, Maria Valdes said in a press release, “Size doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to meteorites, and even tiny micrometeorites can be incredibly scientifically valuable, but of course, finding a big meteorite like this one is rare, and really exciting.”
The strange connection between meteorites and Antarctica
Most space rocks found on Earth have come from the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter.
The researchers believe that the 16.7 lbs. meteorite found in Antarctica may have also left the asteroid belt about tens of thousands of years ago.
Since such space rocks are composed of ancient materials and minerals, studying them helps scientists better understand the cosmos. The heavy meteorite seems well-preserved, and it might shed light on many unknown aspects of our solar system’s history.
Interestingly, most such well-preserved space rocks are either discovered in the desert or Antarctica. Experts at NASA claim that apart from the already found 45,000 meteorites, 300,000 additional space rocks are waiting to be discovered in the frozen continent.
Do you know why so many well-preserved meteorites are spotted in Antarctica?
There is not one but many good reasons for that. First, Antarctica’s snowy landscape, which is devoid of any native rocks, makes it easy for scientists to spot dark alien rocks in the ice.
NASA’s Earth Observatory has even released a map that highlights different meteorite hotspots in Antarctica.
Second, the continent is basically a frozen desert with a very less precipitation rate and a dry climate. So any rocks there didn’t undergo much weathering (deterioration of rocks due to wet atmospheric conditions) compared to any other place on the planet.
Moreover, the continuous movement of glaciers and ice in Antarctica makes it difficult for a meteorite to stay hidden beneath the ice forever.
The 17-pound meteorite adventure
Scientists just discovered a 17-pound meteorite in AntarcticaResearchers with the 17-pound meteorite.
Although it is relatively easy to find small meteorites in Antarctica, the occurrence of such a heavy space rock is rare and is of great importance.
It wasn’t an easy mission for Professor Valdes and her team, and they really had to put in some great effort to secure such a precious space rock.
For instance, before going on the expedition, the researchers studied satellite imagery revealing ice thickness, surface slope, and various other parameters of the region. They further processed this data using advanced machine learning-based algorithms.
This allowed them to pinpoint new locations where they had the maximum chance of finding the maximum number of meteorites. According to the researchers, this is the first time such an approach has been adopted for finding meteorites in Antarctica.
They spent one and a half weeks exploring the frozen continent for space rocks at 14° F (-10° C) temperature. By the time they returned, they had five new meteorites with them, including a rare 16.7 lbs. mighty space rock.
“Going on an adventure exploring unknown areas is exciting, but we also had to deal with the fact that the reality on the ground is much more difficult than the beauty of satellite images,” said Vinciane Debaille, one of the scientists who went on the meteorite mission.
All the recovered meteorites are currently at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, where they will be further examined.
This article was originally published in Interesting Engineering
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