Billion-year-old meteorite discovered in Antarctica contains oldest material in solar system
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A massive meteorite containing the oldest material in the solar system has been found in Antarctica.
The space rock, which was found in December 2022, weighed 7.6kg, making it one of the largest meteorites ever found on the continent.
The dark rock effortlessly stood out when it was found perched in the snowy white ground.
Finding a meteorite of this size is very unusual. Over the past hundred years, more than 45,000 meteorites have been discovered in Antarctica.
And the majority of these discoveries have been micrometeorites, which only weigh a few hundred grams at most.
Experts say it sheds fresh light on the evolution of the sun and planets.
Although Antarctica is not hit by meteorites any more often than other places on Earth, the continent’s weather makes it a great place to look for them.
The wilderness is the best location to look for surviving space rocks as the cold and dry weather provides the perfect conditions for them to be preserved.
Active glaciers also churn up ancient meteorites buried beneath the ice, the New Scientist reports.
“When it comes to meteorites, size doesn't have to matter,” Dr Maria Valdes, of The Field Museum, Chicago, said. She was part of the team that discovered the huge meteorite.
The expedition members mounted snowmobiles to reach the promising landing site that had been previously mapped using satellite images.
They soon discovered five new specimens located near the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica research station.
A computer neural network helped reveal several locations that were relatively free of snow, which might otherwise have covered up the snow rocks.
And one such location contained the meteorites.
"Even tiny micrometeorites can be incredibly valuable from a scientific point of view. But, of course, to find such a large meteorite like this is very rare,” Valdes said.
According to Dr Valdes, only a hundred or so of the meteorites discovered in Antarctica have been the same size or bigger.
The huge 17lb meteorite appears to be an ordinary chondrite, which is the most common type, according to Professor Maria Schonbachler of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich.
These space rocks contain the oldest material in the solar system and likely came from from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
"To find such a big one - this is kind of luck to be honest,” Dr Schonbachler said.
Before being sent to lab in Belgium for further analysis, it’s being kept in a cool box to prevent thawing which could damage its delicate chemical structure.
Dr Ashley King, of the Natural History Museum in London, said: "We don't tend to find too many meteorites in Antarctica that are as big as this.
"The more meteorite we have, the more sample that we have available for us to study and learn about the early solar system."