Scientists Collect 36 Space Objects In Their Antarctic Meteorite Hunt

The first expedition led by Britain for gathering meteorites in Antarctica ended with collection of 36 space rocks. Dr. Katherine Joy and Julie Baum were sent to the Antarctic for 4 weeks. They stayed close to Shackleton Mountains looking for meteorites, which when found were seen to have sizes ranging from tiny flecks to melons. Around 2/3rd of meteorites collected have been found in Antarctica because of the black-and-white contrast which makes detection and spotting of meteorites easier. Other countries to have sent individuals on meteorite hunts to the polar south are Japan, America, Belgium, Italy, China and South Korea. This was UK’s first mission and was funded by Leverhulme Trust.

Meteorites originate from asteroids and smaller lumps of rocky debris that have remained since the Solar System was founded 4.6 Billion years ago. Hence these can provide much information about space conditions that existed before and during formation of planets. Antarctica is idea for meteorite hunting because of movement of ice sheets. Meteorites crashing into high interior of continent are buried, transported toward coast and eventually dumped into ocean. But if mountain ranges act as barriers, ice is forced upward and sweeping rinds reveal hidden cargo. Hence expeditions focus on such special ‘stranding zones’. This UK-led mission is a predecessor to another one that is scheduled for next field season.

Iron in iron meteorites comes from ancient planetary bodies with metal cores. Dr. Geoff Evatt explained that dry deserts of Earth have greater iron meteorite proportions, about 5%. Antarctica, on comparison, has 0.5% as stony meteorites are found in greater proportions there. For detection of those, a wide-array metal-detector was used. The 36 collected rock samples will likely reach Manchester in June. The way stony and iron meteorites rise to surface is statistically different as iron on rising upward, encounters sunlight and melts down back into ice. According to calculations of Dr. Evatt, the objects must be about 30 cm below surface.

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