An intrepid team of scientists has endured the harsh conditions of the icy Antarctic desert to recover five new meteorites, including a massive space rock weighing nearly 17 pounds.
The team of scientists included the Field Museum and University of Chicago researcher Maria Valdez, who put the number at 45,000 meteorites So far recovered from the icy wastelands of Antarctica, only 100 or so were as large as the largest member of this new behemoth, which weighed 16.7 pounds (7.6 kg).
“Size doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to meteorites, and even small micrometeorites can be incredibly valuable scientifically, but of course, finding a large meteorite like this is really rare and exciting,” Valdez said. statment.
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The team, led by Vinciane Debaille, a planetary scientist at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (FNRS-ULB) in Belgium, was the first to discover potential new meteorite locations mapped using satellite imagery.
“Going on an adventure to explore uncharted territories 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 imagery,” Debayle said in the statement.
The team planned their trip for the Antarctic summer, in late December, but temperatures in the area still hovered around 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 degrees Celsius). At some points during the mission, Antarctica was actually much warmer than Chicago, Valdez said, but the weather was more extreme for the team because of days spent riding snowmobiles, trekking through ice fields, and nights spent sleeping in tents.
With frigid conditions like this even in the middle of summer, Antarctica might seem like an unlikely place anyone would choose to visit, but for meteorite hunters like this team, this frigid landscape offers unique opportunities. That’s because Antarctica is one of the best locations around the world to hunt for meteorites.
Antarctica is a desert with a dry climate, which reduces the amount of weathering meteoroids are exposed to. Also, across the snow-white landscape, the black color of these space rocks stands out when they are on the surface of the area.
The conditions in Antarctica are favorable even for the discovery of meteorites that may have sunk under the ice and snow. This is because the churning motion of glaciers moving against rocks can re-expose meteorites near the surface.
Although it is undeniable that the largest meteorite recovered by the team is huge, it is far from the largest or largest example of such a space rock ever to reach Earth’s surface. This record is held by the Hoba meteorite in Namibia. Hoba is 9 feet (2.7 m) long, 9 feet wide, and 3 feet (0.9 m) thick, and weighs about 66 tons, or 132,000 pounds (60,000 kg). This is about 7,765 times heavier than the newly discovered Antarctic meteorite.
The massive new space rocks and other meteorites recovered by the researchers will now be analyzed at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, while team members will individually slice and study sediment samples they collected from Antarctica.
Valdes is excited to know what secrets meteorites hold. “Studying meteorites helps us better understand our place in the universe,” she said. “The larger the sample size of meteorites we have, the better we can understand our solar system, and the better we can understand ourselves.”