A group of scientists from around the world has found five new meteorites in Antarctica. One of them is one of the biggest ever found on the icy continent.
The black rock is about the size of a cantaloupe, but it weighs 8 kilograms (about 17 pounds) because it has a lot of minerals packed into it. Even though a meteorite’s size isn’t always a good indicator of its scientific value, Maria Valdes, a research scientist at the University of Chicago, said that the find is “rare and really exciting.”
Meteorites are easy to find in Antarctica. In the past 100 years, about 45,000 space rocks have been found on the icy surface of the continent. Valdes, who helped lead the expedition with scientists from Belgium and Switzerland, said that the 8 kg meteorite is one of about 100 that are the same size or bigger and were found in Antarctica.
Valdes told NPR in an interview that the huge meteorite almost didn’t get found.
“We had found four meteorites, about 150 grams or less up until that point. And we were about to go home, pack up our tents and drive the snowmobiles back to base,” she said. “It was literally the last hour of the last day. And we stumbled upon this huge meteorite just sitting by itself in the middle of a blue ice field.”
“We got so excited. And we were like, what amazing luck,” Valdes added.
All of the five meteorites that the team found are being studied at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. However, the four researchers have each been given some sediment that may contain tiny micrometeorites to study on their own.
Valdes told CNN that cosmochemistry is her main interest, and she plans to use strong acids to dissolve her samples so that she can separate the different elements.
“Then I can start to think about the origin of this rock, how it evolved over time, what kind of parent body it came from, and where in the solar system that parent body formed,” Valdes said. “Those are the big questions that we try to address.”
In a press release about the find, the Field Museum says that Antarctica is “one of the best places in the world to hunt for meteorites” because of its ideal landscape. The “black space rocks stand out clearly against snowy fields,” and Antarctica’s dry climate limits any weathering the meteorites experience.
The research team walked past some rock formations in Antarctica as they hiked.
Thanks to Maria Valdes.