Rare 17-Pound Meteorite Discovered in Antarctica; Chicago Scientist Will Study Sample


During an expedition to Antarctica that ended on January 16, 2023, researchers found five meteorites, including one of the largest specimens recovered from the continent.  (Credit: Maria Valdes)During an expedition to Antarctica that ended on January 16, 2023, researchers found five meteorites, including one of the largest specimens recovered from the continent. (Credit: Maria Valdes)

(CNN) – During a recent excursion to the frozen plains of Antarctica, an international team of researchers has discovered five new meteorites, including one of the largest ever found on the continent.

The rare meteorite is roughly the size of a melon but weighs a whopping 17 pounds. The specimen is one of only about 100 that size or larger discovered in Antarctica, a prime location for meteorite hunting where more than 45,000 space rocks have been traced.

Now, the exceptional find is headed to the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels, where it will be studied. And Maria Valdes, a researcher at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and the University of Chicago who was part of the expedition team, kept some of the material for her analysis.

Valdes’ area of ​​interest is cosmochemistry. This “generally means that we use meteorites to study the origin and evolution of the solar system through chemical methods,” she told CNN. He will take his samples and use strong acids to dissolve them before using a process called calibrated chemistry to isolate the various elements that make up the rock.

“Then I can start thinking about where this rock came from, 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 we try to address.”

Meteorites strike Earth evenly across its surface, so Antarctica doesn’t host a disproportionately large concentration of them, Valdes noted. But the pure white ice is the perfect backdrop for spotting the jet-black rocks.

Hunting for meteoroids is “really low-tech and less complicated than people might think,” Valdes said. “We either walk or ride a snowmobile, looking at the surface.”

But the team had an idea of ​​where to look. A Study January 2022 used satellite data to help narrow down the locations where meteorites were most likely to be found.

“Meteorites themselves are too small to be detected from space with satellites,” Valdes explained. “But this study used satellite measurements of surface temperature, surface slope, surface speed, ice thickness – things like that. And it fed (the data) into a machine learning algorithm to tell us where we are most likely to find meteor accumulation zones.”

Distinguishing a meteorite from other rocks can be a complicated process, Valdes said. The researchers look for the fusion crust, a glassy coating that forms when the cosmic object plummets through Earth’s atmosphere.

“Many rocks may look like meteorites, but they’re not,” he said. “We call these meteoric wrongs.”

Another distinguishing feature is the potential sample weight. A meteorite will be much heavier for its size than a typical earth rock because it is filled with dense metals.

The conditions the researchers endured were grueling. Although Valdes and three other scientists carried out their mission during the continent’s “summer,” which offered 24 hours of daylight, temperatures still hovered around 14 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a press release from the US. Field Museum.

The research team spent about a week and a half with a polar camp guide, living in tents pitched on the frozen ground. However, Valdes said she and her colleagues also spent time at a Belgian research station near the coast of Antarctica, where they enjoyed hot, cheesy foods, such as fondue.

When it comes to future research, the good news, Valdes added, is that the five meteorites she and her colleagues discovered on this expedition are just the tip of the iceberg.

“I’m looking forward to going back, for sure,” she said. “Based on the satellite study, there are at least 300,000 meteorites still waiting to be collected in Antarctica. And the more (number of) samples we have, the better we can understand our solar system.”

The excursion was led by Vinciane Debaille, a professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Brussels. She and Valdes were joined by Maria Schönbächler, a professor at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zurich, and doctoral candidate Ryoga Maeda of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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