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During a recent excursion into the icy plains of Antarctica, an international team of researchers discovered five new meteorites – including one of the largest ever found on the continent.
The rare meteorite is about the size of a cantaloupe but weighs 17 pounds (7.7 kg). The specimen is one of about 100 or so of its size discovered in Antarctica, an important meteorite hunting ground where more than 45,000 space rocks have been traced.
Now, the extraordinary find is on its way to the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels, where it will be studied. And Maria Valdes, a research scientist at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago who was part of the expedition team, kept some of the material for her own analysis.
Valdes’ focus is cosmochemistry. “This broadly means that we use meteorites to study the origin and evolution of the solar system through chemical methods,” he told CNN. She will take her samples and use strong acids to dissolve them before using a process called calibrated chemistry to separate the different elements that make up the rock.
“Then I can start thinking 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 this parent body formed,” Valdes said. “These are the big questions we try to address.”
Meteorites hit Earth evenly across its surface, so Antarctica isn’t home to a disproportionately large number of them, Valdes said. Noted but pure white snow is an ideal background for spotting. jet black stone.
Valdes said that hunting down metroids is “really low-tech and less complicated than people think.” “We’re either walking around or driving on snowmobiles, looking at the surface.”
But the team knew where to look. Oh January 2022 study used satellite data to help narrow down the locations where the most meteors were. likely to be found.
“Meteorites themselves are too small to be detected from space by satellites,” Valdes explained, “but the study used satellite measurements of surface temperature, surface slope, surface velocity, ice thickness, etc. Have been – things like that. And he fed[the data]into a machine learning algorithm to tell us where there were the highest chances of finding meteorite accumulation areas.”
Distinguishing meteorites from other rocks can be a difficult process, Valdes said. Researchers look for fusion crust, a glassy coating formed when a cosmic object crashes into Earth’s atmosphere.
“A lot of rocks may look like they’re meteorites, but they’re not,” he said. “We call these meteors false.”
Another distinguishing feature is the potential sample weight. A meteorite will be much heavier for its size than a typical terrestrial rock because it is filled with denser metals.
The conditions that the researchers encountered were extremely harsh. Although Valdes and three other scientists conducted their mission during the continent’s “summer,” which offered 24 hours of daylight, temperatures still hovered around 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus). 10 degrees Celsius) according to a news report from Field Museum.
The research team spent about a week and a half with polar field guides, who lived in tents set up on the icy terrain. however, Valdes said he and his colleagues did too Spent time at a research station in Belgium near the coast of Antarctica, where they enjoyed warm, savory meals, such as fondue.
When it comes to future research, The good news, Valdes added, is that the five meteorites he and his colleagues have discovered in this expedition are just the tip of the iceberg.
“I’m anxious to get back out there, for sure,” he said. Based on satellite studies, there are at least 300,000 meteorites waiting to accumulate in Antarctica. And the bigger (number of) samples we have, the better we can understand our solar system.”
The tour was led by Professor Vinciane Debaille of the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Brussels. He and Valdes were joined by Maria Schönbachler, a professor at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zurich, and a doctoral student. Ryoga Maeda of Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Université Libre de Bruxelles.