Monster Space Rock in Antarctica is one of the largest found in 100 years: ScienceAlert

Monster Space Rock in Antarctica is one of the largest found in 100 years: ScienceAlert

Monster Space Rock in Antarctica is one of the largest found in 100 years: ScienceAlert

Antarctica has there is a lot involved when it comes to meteorite hunting. The dark rocks stand out against the icy landscape. The dry climate keeps weathering to a minimum. And even when meteorites sink into the ice, they often return to the surface through the churning of the glaciers.

Despite these ideal conditions, it is rare to find large pieces of space rock.

A group of researchers has just returned from the ice-covered continent with five new meteorites, including an unusually large specimen.

The large find in this trek weighs in at 7.6 kilograms and places it in the top 100 size-wise meteorites recovered from Antarctica in the past century. If you consider that about 45,000 have been found in that time, that says something.

This sample of a space rock is now being returned to the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, where it will be closely studied with the smaller stones. Scientists can learn a lot from the journeys meteorites make have had on our planet.

“Size doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to meteorites, and even tiny micrometeorites can be incredibly scientifically valuable,” says cosmochemist Maria Valdes, from the Illinois Field Museum. “But finding a large meteorite like this is obviously rare and very exciting.”

While meteorites may be easier to see in Antarctica, the continent isn’t exactly easy to travel across, with its frigid conditions and remote location. The team involved in this find spent several days camping in the wilderness, on foot and snowmobiling.

It also helps to know where meteorites are likely to be found. So here the researchers used a ‘treasure map’ published last yearwhich uses clues found in satellite images – such as measurements of ice flow, temperature and surface slope – to make educated guesses about where new rocks can be found using AI.

Monster Space Rock in Antarctica is one of the largest found in 100 years: ScienceAlert
The researchers at work on an ice field. (Maria Valdes)

“Going on an adventure and exploring unknown areas is exciting,” says geoscientist Vinciane Debaillefrom 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 clues it provides, and its creators 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 think so still wrong on finding many of them, especially those rich in iron. Part of the reason may be that these kinds of meteorites heat up in the sunlight, melting the surrounding ice and sinking out of sight below the surface.

However, there is now an exciting new batch of these rocks ready for a closer look – and somewhere in the newly recovered meteorites should be traces of the history of the solar system in which we exist.

“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.



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