Researchers Plan to Find Iron-Rich Meteorites in Antarctica

A team of scientists intends to search for meteorites in freezing Antarctica. If such elements may be discovered, the enigma surrounding the Solar System may be unraveled. Scientists from the University of Manchester will begin the hunt for iron-rich meteorites at the south pole of the icy continent. The project is supposed to last for six weeks.

Easy to Spot

The tiny chunks of iron signify early elements of the Solar System and small objects which couldn’t form into planets. Analyzing a 15 to 20-kilometer (9 to 12 miles) square area of Antarctica, the team will look beneath the surface for traces of iron space rocks.

When the meteorites reach the ground, they are still blazing hot from where they crushed with the atmosphere, melting the snow surrounding them as they fall on the soil. The Antarctic has been a hot area for meteorite seekers, having over two-thirds of the total number of meteorites that have been discovered being found there.

One of the main reasons the place has become a hotspot in the last period is because the rocks’ dark color is easy to notice in contrast to the white snow, making them easier to find. Moreover, the ice stream in the icy continent takes the space rocks and slowly transports them to condensed regions known as ‘meteorite stranding zones’ (MSZ).

Even so, there have been a few meteorites packed with iron discovered in the area, but the researcher from the University of Manchester believe they have found out the reason why not a large amount of iron-rich meteorites have been located there.

They explained that these meteorites are more likely to absorb heat from the sun’s beams, in comparison to non-metallic rocks. This makes them melt the ice surrounding them and ultimately burying them in ice and snow as soon as they have been streamed to an MSZ.

Figuring Out the Evolution of the Universe

Researchers say meteorite hunters should be searching approximately 10 to 15 centimeters (3 to 5 inches) below the surface in order to find iron-rich space rocks in Antarctica. Dr. Geoff Evatt explained: “Iron meteorites have a higher thermal conductivity than chondrites or stony meteorites. That means they can warm and melt the ice around them more efficiently. So we expect them to be there, hanging just below the surface.”

​Meteorites abounding in iron are priceless to researchers as they normally come from the nucleus of early planets, which disintegrated during the evolution of the Universe. ​Dr. Katie Joy said that by determining the age, structure, and chemistry of iron space rocks, scientists could figure out the timing of the processes that took place in the early Solar System, as well as the number and variety of the tiny planets that were taking shape.

“And all of that information can help us understand how we got big planets like Earth, Mars, and Venus. It would be really exciting if we could find a lunar or Martian meteorite. That would be the cherry on the cake,”​ she added.

The team of researchers hopes they can identify approximately 80 surface meteorites composed of various asteroid types. If they can find that many, this suggests that underneath the ice surface, there may be four of five meteorites packed with iron.

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