Meteorite Hunters Discover an Extraordinary 17-Pound Space Rock in Antarctica

Meteorite Hunters Discover an Extraordinary 17-Pound Space Rock in Antarctica ...

Maria Schönbächler's white helmet. Ryoga Maeda's black helmet. Vinciane Debaille's orange helmet

Antarctica is a difficult country to live in, for obvious reasons: it's bitterly cold, remote, and wild; however, it's one of the finest places in the world to hunt meteorites, partly due to the dry climate, which makes the region a great hunting ground for meteorites. The blue ice fields below the continent's surface reflect sunlight.

A group of researchers from abroad who just returned from Antarctica has proved to be the continent's meteorite-hunter friendliness: five new meteorites were returned, one of which weighs 16.7 pounds (7.6 kg).

The 17-pound meteorite. Photo: Maria Valdes'

Maria Valdes, a research scientist at the Field Museum and the University of Chicago, believes that of the roughly 45,000 meteorites recovered from Antarctica over the past century, only about a hundred or so are this size or larger. "It doesn't necessarily matter when it comes to meteorites," says Valdes, "but of course, finding a big meteorite like this one is rare."

When out on the field, the team's tents. Credit: Maria Valdes

Valdes was one of four scientists on the mission, headed by Vinciane Debaille of the University of Brussels (FNRS-ULB); Maria Schönbächler (ETH-Zurich) and Ryoga Maeda (VUB-ULB) led by the first to survey potential new meteorite sites, identified by Veronica Tollenaar, a thesis student at the University of Luxembourg.

Scientists looking for meteorites in the background see rocks strewn across an ice field.

Debaille says: "We had to face the fact that the reality on the ground is much more difficult than the beauty of satellite images." During their trip to Antarctica, temperatures ranged from 14° to 10°C, but spending days riding snowmobiles and trekking through ice fields and then sleeping in a tent made the weather in Antarctica more extreme.

The group is attempting to reach Antarctica via rock formations. Photo: Maria Valdes

The five meteorites recovered by the team will be examined by the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences; while sediment potentially containing tiny micrometeorites was shared among the researchers for study at their institutions.

Valdes says she's eager to hear what the meteorites' analyses reveal, because "studying meteorites helps us understand ourselves better."

A snowy field in Antarctica. Credit: Maria Valdes' Courtesy

Valdes's research is supported by the Field Museum's Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies, the TAWANI Foundation, and the Meeker family.

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