Antarctic meteorites that hail from Mars Scientists finding a meteorite in Antarctica. (Katherine Joy, University of Manchester, Antarctic Search for Meteorites Program/Smithsonian)
Antarctic meteorites that hail from Mars
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Who would think that a rock found in remote, freezing Antarctica, could be useful for studying Mars? In fact, teams of geologists congregate in Antarctica to find meteorites. Some of the meteorites originated on Mars. Although meteorites fall all over the Earth, the cold, dry conditions of the South Pole are ideal for preserving them. The movements of ice sheets concentrate the meteorites against mountainsides. The intense, Antarctic winds erode the ice surface away. That leaves meteorites exposed.
 
Getting to Antarctica, however, is not a short journey for a meteorite. Each meteorite was originally part of some larger solar system object. It could have been a planet, moon or asteroid. The solar system is an active place, with lots of objects in motion. The area between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, called the asteroid belt, is like a bumper car pavilion when viewed over long periods of time. Objects are continually colliding. That causes pieces to get knocked off and thrown into irregular orbits.
 
Every once in a while, an object gets bumped onto a trajectory that brings it to Earth. If it reaches Earth's surface, it officially becomes a meteorite. But, objects may stay in the asteroid belt for millions of years before getting bumped out. For example, meteorites called nakhlites were ejected from Mars about 11 million years ago. It happened because of a collision. They landed on Earth 10,000 years ago or less. This means that they were kicking around in space for at least 10,990,000 years.
 
What that also means is that meteorites are made of very old materials. Nakhlites are made of 1-billion-year-old magma. It provides clues about geologic activity on a younger Mars. Some meteorites can be traced back even further. They go back to a dynamic period about 3.9 billion years ago. It was called the Late Heavy Bombardment. The Earth, its Moon (look at all the craters!) and other planets were bombarded with meteorites for reasons that scientists are still trying to understand.
 
Learn more about collisions in space and meteorites from Mars in a live "Smithsonian Science How" webcast. It airs on Thursday, June 9, 2016. In Exploring the Solar System with Antarctic Meteorites (at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EDT on the Q?rius website), meteoriticist Dr. Cari Corrigan will show you some meteorites that are kept in collections at the National Museum of Natural History, while answering your questions live. Get teaching resources to use with the webcast.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why are cold, dry conditions best for preservation?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (52)
  • kayleeu-2-bar
    6/03/2016 - 07:39 p.m.

    Cold dry conditions are best for preservation because the movements of the ice sheets help concentrate the meteorites against the mountains. Also, "the intense, Antarctic winds erode the ice surface away. That leaves meteorites exposed."
    My opinion on this article is that I didn't know there were meteors in the Antarctic.

  • jasminec-6-bar
    6/06/2016 - 12:40 p.m.

    Cold, dry conditions are the best for preservation because,"The movements of ice sheets concentrate the meteorites against mountainsides. The intense, Antarctic winds erode the ice surface away. That leaves meteorites exposed." Meaning that the meteorites have been left untouched for long periods of time, and scientist know where to find the meteorites due to the ice sheets.
    I thought this article was very interesting, I did not know anything about meteorites and how there were best preserved in cold and dry environments.

  • gabriellek-1-bar
    6/06/2016 - 01:22 p.m.

    Cold dry conditions are best for preservation because the cold concentrates the meteorites against the mountains. I found this article interesting because it would have taken a really big collision for a meteorite to come out of the asteroid belt. I was surprised when I found out that some meteorites date back to 3.9 billion years ago.

  • kaleal-2-bar
    6/06/2016 - 03:21 p.m.

    Cold, dry conditions are best for preservation because there's no moisture that will break the objects down and the coldness works like how a refrigerator may work to keep food from rotting. I thought this article was fascinating because space is still so undiscovered.

  • isabellaw-1-bar
    6/06/2016 - 03:21 p.m.

    Cold, dry conditions are best for preservation because " the movement of the ice sheets concentrate the meteorites against the mountainsides."

    I found this interesting because I did not know that meteorites needed to be in a cold environment.

  • samuelr-2-bar
    6/06/2016 - 04:08 p.m.

    Cold, dry conditions are best for preservation because there are not any elements that that will erode the meteor itself. The cold conditions are good because they do not melt the ice surrounding the meteor, instead intense arctic winds get rid of the surrounding snow to expose just the meteor. Dry conditions are best for preservation because rain, over time, cold destroy the integrity of the meteor. The pure meteor is needed so that scientists can run tests on the rock to know specific details about the conditions of the planet it came from. I chose this article because I think that it is very cool how we are getting closer and closer to being able to send people to Mars.

  • william1108-yyca
    6/06/2016 - 08:02 p.m.

    Cold, dry conditions are best for preservation because there are not any elements that that will erode the meteor itself. The cold conditions are good because they do not melt the ice surrounding the meteor, instead intense arctic winds get rid of the surrounding snow to expose just the meteor. Dry conditions are best for preservation because rain, over time, cold destroy the integrity of the meteor. The pure meteor is needed so that scientists can run tests on the rock to know specific details about the conditions of the planet it came from. I chose this article because I think that it is very cool how we are getting closer and closer to being able to send people to Mars.

  • oliviam-6-bar
    6/06/2016 - 09:25 p.m.

    Cold, dry conditions are best for preservation because there are not any elements that that will erode organic matter. The cold conditions do not melt the ice surrounding the meteor, instead intense arctic winds get rid of the surrounding snow to expose just the meteor itself. Dry conditions are best for preservation because rain can erode the meteor. The pure meteor is needed so that scientists can run tests on the rock to know specific details about the conditions of the planet it came from.

  • taylore-1-bar
    6/06/2016 - 09:30 p.m.

    Cold and dry conditions are best for preservation because meteorites are made of ice rock and dust particles. If they were in a warmer environment, they would melt and they are for not preserved. I thought this article was interesting because we learned about meteorites and meteors in science. This article did not surprise me because I already knew most of what was in it.

  • karliw-1-bar
    6/06/2016 - 09:36 p.m.

    Colder and drier conditions are the best for preserving meteorities because,"the movements of ice sheets concentrate the meteorites against mountainsides. The intense, Antarctic winds erode the ice surface away." This leaves meteorites exposed.

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