Hunt for Antarctica’s “missing meteorites”
The go-ahead has been given for the first British expedition to collect meteorites in Antarctica.
Most of the space rocks now in collections worldwide have been picked up on the continent.
The region’s great expanse of ice makes searching for the blackened remains of objects that have fallen from the sky a particularly productive exercise.
But the UK venture will target a strangely underrepresented class of meteorites – those made of iron.
These are the smashed up innards of bodies that almost became planets at the start of the Solar System.
Finding more of them could give us important clues to events that occurred some 4.6 billion years ago, said Dr Katherine Joy from Manchester University.
“We can’t access the iron core of the Earth, but iron meteorites provide us with a really nice guide to what the inside of our own planet is like and gives us an indication of how many planets there may have been in the early Solar System,” she told BBC News.
Ten times fewer of these iron lumps are recovered on the White Continent compared with other parts of the globe.
The British scientists think they know the reason for this discrepancy.
They have developed a mathematical model that suggests the chunks of metal are all still out there, waiting to be picked up; they just happen to be buried a few centimetres below the surface.
Technologies normally employed in landmine detection are being adapted to make a wide sensor.
This apparatus will be dragged by skidoos across the ice to find the hidden space material.
A prototype system should be ready for testing at the UK’s Halley research station in the Antarctic summer season of 2018/19.
Assuming this goes well, a team will then deploy to a deep-field site a year later to begin the iron hunt in earnest.
Any meteorites that are located will be brought back to the UK to be curated and studied.
lot of activity down under..
is the hunt for meteorites covering up for something else?