Antarctic Scientists Discover 18kg Meteorite

Mar 18, 2013 No Comments by 2190 views

An international team of scientists, working at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica research station, has discovered a meteorite with a mass of 18kg embedded in the East Antarctic ice sheet, the largest such meteorite found in the region since 1988.

The eight members of the SAMBA project, from Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Japan’s National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) and Tokyo University were searching for meteorites scattered across the Nansen Ice Field when, on January 28,  they found the 18kg ordinary chondrite. During the 40 day expedition the team discovered a total of 425 meteorites with a total weight of 75kg at an altitude of 2,900m, 140km south of Belgium’s Princess Elisabeth Antarctica research base. “This meteorite was a very unexpected find for us, not only due to its weight, but because we don’t normally find such large meteorites in Antarctica”, said Vinciane Debaille, a geologist from Université Libre de Bruxelles and a councillor of the European Association of Geochemistry (EAG). Vinciane led the Belgian part of the team during the expedition. “This is the biggest meteorite found in East Antarctica for 25 years, so it’s a very special discovery for us, only made possible by the existence and location of Princess Elisabeth Antarctica.”

The SAMBA project contributes to the US and Japan-led global collection of Antarctic meteorites, and is an initiative of VUB and ULB, in collaboration with the Japanese Institute of Polar Research. SAMBA is supported by the Belgian Science Policy (BELSPO) and the International Polar Foundation.

Initial field observations by the scientists suggested that since the fusion crust was slightly eroded, the 18kg meteorite is an ordinary chondrite, the most abundant kind of  meteorite. It is currently undergoing a special thawing process in Japan, where ice is sublimed into vapor under vacuum. This is to ensure water doesn’t get inside the rock, potentially altering it further.

“In addition to this large meteorite, we already identified a few achondrites, including eucrites and diogenite, and at least two carbonaceous chondrites”, said Vinciane. “This season’s SAMBA mission was a success both in terms of the number and weight of the meteorites we found. Two years ago, we found less than 10kg. This year, we found so much that we had to call the travel agency – because we had 75kg of meteorites to take home”.

“Both Princess Elisabeth Antarctica and the International Polar Foundation are proud to support the research work of the Belgian and Japanese meteorite team”, said expedition leader Alain Hubert. “By providing solid logistics and field accommodation solutions to scientists working on the ice, we can ensure they can concentrate on what they have come to Antarctica to achieve: unlocking of Nature’s mysteries and broadening understanding of our planet”.

About the author:

Vinciane Debaille is a FNRS Research Associate at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium. She studies long-lived and short-lived isotope ratios in terrestrial as well as in extraterrestrial rocks for understanding the geodynamic of Earth and terrestrial planets. She is Co-PI of the SAMBA project, for collecting meteorites in Antarctica. In collaboration with the National Institute of Polar Research (Japan), she led the Belgian team during the 2012-2013 joint campaign in Antarctica, after a first mission in 2010-2011.

Additional information:

To find out more about science at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica and life in the frozen south, visit Inside the Station – an interactive exhibition that takes visitors on a journey inside Belgium’s zero emission polar research centre (currently taking place at Tour & Taxis, Brussels).

For more information, including access to high resolution images, please contact the International Polar Foundation’s press desk in Brussels, Belgium, at press@polarfoundation.org or phone +32 2 543 06 98 | www.polarfoundation.org.

Belgian and Japanese team:

  • Vinciane Debaille (Belgium, ULB)
  • Wendy Debouge (Belgium, ULB)
  • Geneviève Hublet (Belgium, ULB)
  • Nadia Van Roosbroek (Belgium,VUB)
  • Harry Zekollari (Belgium,VUB)
  • Naoya Imae (Japan, NIPR)
  • Akira Yamaguchi (Japan, NIPR)
  • Takashi Mikouchi (Japan, University of Tokyo)

A few numbers (source: Meteoritical Society):

  • Total known meteorites discovered: 56,555
  • Total meteorites found in Antarctica only: 38,537
  • Among Antarctic meteorites, only 30 have a mass greater than 18 kg. The 18kg meteorite has the fifth largest mass ever discovered in East Antarctica (Dronning Maud Land), and is the first of this size found in the area since1988.
  • Per year, around 1,000 meteorites weighing less than 100g are found, and about 100 less than 1kg.

References:

A full press release is available here.

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