Search Begins for Antarctica’s Mysterious Lost Meteorites
Antarctica is the perfect environment for meteorite hunting due to the contrast dark, metallic meteorites have against the white, icy landscape. Aside from the space rocks resting safely on the frozen continent, older subterranean meteorites are frequently pushed up to the Antarctic surface by geysers of water flowing upwards due to glacial melt. As Antarctica continues to melt and break up at an alarmingly increasing rate, more and more meteorites are being discovered on the southernmost continent. However, the number of meteorites discovered is far below the estimates based on the frequency of meteorites found on other continents, and scientists aren’t sure why.
While meteorites on the surface are easy to spot, once just below the ice or snow are much more difficult to find.
One theory is that the dark, metallic meteorites absorb sunlight at a much higher rate than the surrounding snow and ice, and thus heat up more quickly. The warm meteorites are then thought to sink into the ice, obscuring them from view. To search for and hopefully recover these gems of astronomical research, a team of interdisciplinary scientists from the University of Manchester is launching a radical new meteorite hunt over the next few years.
These meteorites are a priceless source of information about our cosmic neighborhood.
Team leader and UM mathematician Geoffrey Evatt says the mission is the first UK-led meteorite-hunting expedition and offers a new chance to conduct groundbreaking planetary research:
We now have the opportunity to commence on a truly exciting scientific adventure. If successful, our expeditions will help scientists to decode the origins of the Solar System and cement the UK as a leader in meteoritics and planetary science.
The team will venture into some of the last unexplored areas of Antarctica and deploy advanced and experimental metal-hunting technologies currently being developed for bomb detection. Their search will focus on so-called meteorite stranding zones (MSZs), areas thought to be rife with meteorites. If they can be recovered, these Antarctic meteorites could represent a perfect opportunity for planetary scientists to gain information about our solar system’s formation and the composition of objects in our galactic neighborhood:
Every new iron or stony-iron meteorite sample recovered has the potential to have originated from the core (or core–mantle boundary) of its own unique parent asteroid body providing insights into the number, diversity, evolution and destruction of protoplanets that existed in the early solar system.
Antarctica is one of the last unexplored areas on Earth and continues to be an enduring source of unexpected discoveries. Last year, archaeologists dug up a new species of prehistoric sea monster in the Antarctic ice while another expedition found a rare gemstone-studded meteorite. Antarctica has also become the subject of intense scrutiny on Google Earth, with odd-looking objects being regularly spotted in satellite photographs.