Researchers discover rare 7.6kg meteorite in Antarctica

Scientists braved the icy continent's freezing temperatures to go hunting for the space rock

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A team of researchers have discovered a rare meteorite in Antarctica that weighs 7.6kg.

Space rocks are often found in parts of the icy continent but are mostly very small.

Only about 100 of the 45,000 meteorites retrieved from Antarctica over the past century have been this big.

“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,” said Maria Valdes, a research scientist at the Field Museum and the University of Chicago.

“Studying meteorites helps us better understand our place in the universe.

“The bigger a sample size we have of meteorites, the better we can understand our solar system, and the better we can understand ourselves.”

Ms Valdes was one of the four scientists on the mission, which was led by Vinciane Debaille of the Universte Libre de Bruxelles, a research university in Brussels, Belgium.

They brought back five meteorites and sediment potentially containing tiny micrometeorites.

Satellite images helped them map the area and locate some of the space rocks.

“Going on an adventure exploring unknown areas is exciting,” said Ms Debaille.

“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.”

The team endured freezing temperatures of -10°C and spent days riding snowmobiles, trekking through ice fields and sleeping in tents.

Antarctica is ideal for meteorite hunting because the black space rocks stand out against the snowy fields.

And even when they sink into the ice, the glacier’s churning motion against the rock helps re-expose them.

It is estimated that 300,000 meteorites are scattered on the icy landscape covering 14 million square kilometres and are waiting to be found.

Nasa said scientists have been trying to find the rocks at "meteorite stranding zones" – areas where the local geology, flow of the ice and climate conditions have caused meteorites to accumulate at the surface.

“Such stranding zones have traditionally been discovered by chance — often close to a research station — or by scanning maps and satellite images of areas with blue ice,” said Nasa.

“Nearly all meteorites are found on blue ice, which lacks snow cover and allows meteorites to be exposed at the surface.”

Apart from remote locations, space rocks can also fall in developed areas.

In 2021, a small meteorite crash-landed on to a driveway in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, UK.

A study led by the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway at the University of London found organic compounds in the rock that may hold secrets to the origin of life.

"In the study, the analysis found a range of organic matter which reveals that the meteorite was once from part of an asteroid where liquid water occurred, and if that asteroid had been given access to the water, a chemical reaction could have occurred leading to more molecules turning into amino acids and protein — the building blocks of life," the university said.

Updated: January 22, 2023, 12:18 PM