Meteorites discovered in Antarctica could hold the key to unlocking the mystery of Earth’s formation. Here’s what you need to know.
One of the two polar ice caps on Earth, Antarctica is a desolate place known for its vast expanse of ice. The majority of the continent is covered in ice and snow, making it the coldest, windiest and driest continent on Earth. The conditions are so harsh on this continent that it maked it so inhospitable that no permanent human settlements exist here. Only researchers who work in temporary research stations are stationed here. Despite being inhospitable, Antarctica is home to a wide variety of unique ecosystems. Diverse array of microorganisms also exist here, with most of them trapped in the ice which is millions of years old.
Now, scientists have uncovered another mystery in this icy land, one which could hold the key to Earth’s formation. According to PTI, an international team of researchers have found 5 new meteorites during their reconnaissance mission in Antarctica, including one, which weighs nearly 7.6 kg. These space rocks were found in a region known as Antarctica Blue Ice. The mission was meant to explore new areas of meteorite accumulation around the Belgian Princess Elisabeth Antarctica (PEA) Station, and lasted from December 11, 2022 to January 11.
What researchers say
Maria Schoenbaechler, a professor from the department of Earth sciences at ETH-Zurich in Switzerland and part of the team that visited Antarctica told PTI, “Meteorites are rocks fallen from space as a shooting star. Previously, three successful Belgian-Japanese missions to the Nansen Blue Ice Field near the Belgian station in Antartica collected more than 600 meteorites. Using satellite images and GPS coordinates, the team set out to discover the potential of several areas of interest by searching them for meteorites.”
Antarctica is an ideal place to spot crashed meteorites as these objects can be spotted easily thanks to the land’s unique icy conditions. According to Schoenbaechler, the meteorite is made of chondrites, the oldest known rock material in the universe. “It belongs to the oldest material that can be found on Earth and is similar to the building block of the Earth,” she said.
Therefore, this discovery could help in unlocking the secrets of Earth’s formation which occurred nearly 4.5 billion years ago. The meteorites will now be analysed at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.