UK mission to hunt for 'lost' meteorites

British scientists have announced the first ever UK-led meteorite hunting mission to Antarctica, in the hope of discovering clues about the formation of planetary bodies.

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Is there a layer of 'lost' iron-rich meteorites hidden beneath the surface of Antarctica?
Credit: British Antarctic Survey

A group of scientists from the University of Manchester are getting ready for an expedition to find the ‘lost’ meteorites of Antarctica and uncover clues about the formation of our Solar System.

The British Antarctic Survey is providing support for the mission, which is the first ever UK-led Antarctic meteorite search.

The team will be looking for iron-based meteorites in particular. These formed from the ‘seeds’ of early planets, known as planetesimals, and finding good specimens is key to learning more about how planets form and grow.

Iron-based meteorites, however, are notably sparse in hunts carried out in Antarctica, compared with meteorite searches elsewhere on the planet.

Dr Geoffrey Evatt of the University of Manchester believes he may have solved this meteorite riddle. His research suggests the iron meteorites in Antarctica could exist in a sparse layer just centimetres below the ice. His theory is that rays from the Sun warm the iron meteorites more than the non-metallic ones, causing the ice to melt and the iron meteorites to sink, where they become trapped below the surface.

The team are now expected to begin developing metal detection technologies to help them uncover the iron meteorites during their main expedition in 2020. A preliminary expedition will take place in 2019 and a test mission will occur before then in 2018 on the Arctic island of Svalbard.

During the main expedition, the team will work at three individual sites on the continent, transported by aircraft hundreds of kilometres from the nearest research stations.

Dr Evatt says: “We now have the opportunity to commence on a truly exciting scientific adventure. If successful, our expeditions will help scientists to decode the origins of the Solar System and cement the UK as a leader in meteoritics and planetary science.”


 

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