Antarcticas ice certainly seems to be hiding a lot. Just recently, scientists discovered the worlds largest valley system, twice the size of the Grand Canyon, beneath the surface of East Antarctica. Now, a new experimental examine in Nature Communications suggests that a hidden cache of iron meteorites may be found no more than half a meter( 1.64 feet) beneath the ice, potentially preserving the recorded history of the formation of our Solar System.
Antarctica is a renowned meteoritecollection site, principally for two reasons. Firstly, meteorites tend to be dark in colouring, which are easy to spot on the pristine, white icy plains of the southernmost continent. Secondly, ancient meteorites that have long been interred beneath the ice are moved towards the surface by upward-flowing ice; this happens when a glacier suddenly slows down, which squeezes out parts of it. This mechanism concentrates meteorites at the surface, often near mountain ranges, in areas known as meteorite stranding zones.
Its not surprising, then, that about 35, 000 meteorite samples, over two-thirds of the worlds total number of collected specimen, have been recovered from Antarctica, which include many lunar and Martian examples. However, as this new examine points out, stony meteorites are observed far more frequently in Antarctica than iron meteorites.
Meteorite samples of both types should be evenly distributed acrossEarth, so the reason for this iron deficit has long amazed scientists. In order to solve this mystery, a squad of researchers from the University of Manchester set up a novel experimentation designed to find out if these iron meteorites might actually be hiding beneath the ice.
The team encased two spherical meteorites, one stony and one iron-rich, in a block of ice within a temperature-controlled chamber, and uncovered them to a lamp that simulated natural Antarctic sunlight.
A meteorite just waiting to be snatched up by an intrepid researcher. Antarctic Search for Meteorites Program/ Katherine Joy
Although both samples were able to heat up enough to melt the surrounding ice to a degree, the iron meteorite sank 1.6 times faster than the stony meteorite. The metallic composition of the iron meteorite meant that it was able to conduct hot more efficiently, allowing it to melt through more ice.
In order to confirm their findings, the researchers applied this model of meteorite heating to Antarcticas Frontier Mountain, a well-known meteorite trap. Their computer simulations calculated that the stony meteorites will almost always appear at the surface, whereas iron variants are likely to remain trapped below the ice. The implication of this finding is that theres a layer of iron meteorites hiding simply underneath the icy surface of Antarctica.
Every one of these iron meteorites could potentially represent the interior structure of a protoplanet that never made it to full-size, Dr. Katherine Joy told IFLScience. This means that, by observing them, we can access the cores of planetary bodies that dont exist anymore.
Every single one see, hence, provides an insight into the creation, evolution, and demolition of some of our Solar System’syoungest rocky objects failed planets or giant asteroids that ultimately broke apart.