Antarctica bombshell: Scientists head to Antarctica to unlock secrets of the solar system

Researchers from the University of Manchester will spend six weeks at the south pole where they will search for iron meteorites. The small lumps of iron represent the early remnants of the solar system and small objects which failed to form into planets. The team will be analysing a 15-20km square region of Antarctica, mainly looking beneath the surface.

As the meteorites hit the ground, they are still piping hot from where they collided with the atmosphere, melting the snow around them as they land on the ground.

The Antarctic has been a hotspot for meteorite hunters, with more than two thirds of the total number of meteorites collected being found there.

One of the reasons the location has become so popular is because meteorites’ dark colouring stands out against the white snow, which makes them easy to detect.

Additionally, ice flow in Antarctica takes meteorites and naturally and gradually transports them to concentrated areas known as meteorite stranding zones (MSZ).

However, there have been few iron-rich meteorites found in the region but the team from the University of Manchester thinks they have figured out why not many iron-rich meteorites have been found there.

They say these meteorites are more prone to conducting heat from the sun’s rays, in comparison with non-metallic ones, which causes them to melt the ice around them and subsequently burying them in ice and snow once they have been transported to an MSZ.

The team says that for meteorite hunters looking for iron-rich meteorites in Antarctica, they should be looking 10-50cm below the surface.

Dr Geoff Evatt told the BBC: “Iron meteorites have a higher thermal conductivity than chondrites, or stony meteorites.

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“And all of that information can help us understand how we got big planets like Earth, Mars and Venus.

“It would be really exciting if we could find a lunar or Martian meteorite. That would be the cherry on the cake.

“But hopefully we can find about 80 surface meteorites made up of different asteroid types. And if we can find that many, this implies that beneath the ice surface we may have four or five iron-rich meteorites – if our theory is correct.”