Antarctica may not be the first choice for many scientists to conduct their field research. But for a group of scientists who study meteorites, the Antarctic ice sheet is a hot bed of fallen fireballs from the sky.
Finding meteorites in the frozen desert isn’t uncommon. In fact, around 45,000 have been found over the past 100 years, according to an estimate from Maria Valdes, a research scientist at the Field Museum and University of Chicago.
Valdes, part of an international team of researchers, confirmed Antarctica as a meteorite hot spot after finding 5 new meteorites on a December expedition.
One of the meteorites weigh 16.7 pounds, which is special in its size. Valdes said only 100 or so meteorites have been found that are this size or larger.
The team announced the discovery in a Field Museum release.
“Size doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to meteorites, and even tiny micrometeorites can be incredibly scientifically valuable,” Valdes said, “but of course, finding a big meteorite like this one is rare, and really exciting.”
Part of what makes Antarctica the perfect place to find meteorites is its dry climate and ever-changing landscape. The snow-covered horizon means the black meteorites stand out, and the constant churning and moving of glaciers helps to expose meteorites near the surface that may have been buried. The ice also preserves meteorites particularly well, decreasing the amount of wear and tear that might erase cosmic clues hidden in the rocks.
All five meteorites found by the team will be analyzed at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, and Valdes is hopeful the findings will reveal some secrets of the solar system.
Another meteorite, which fell from Mars and landed in the Moroccan desert in 2011, was recently analyzed to see what secrets it could tell.
The meteorite contained organomagnesium, which suggests there might have once been a carbon cycle on Mars, a necessary building block for life, as reported by McClatchy News.
Valdes said “studying meteorites helps us better understand our place in the universe. The bigger a sample size we have of meteorites, the better we can understand our Solar System, and the better we can understand ourselves.”