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 (53)
  • brandonm-2-bar
    6/07/2016 - 02:02 a.m.

    Cold, dry conditions are best for preservation because there is no moisture that will break down the fossil, meteorite, etc. The cold also kills microorganisms that could "eat" the object away. The article backs us this claim by stating that "the cold, dry conditions of the South Pole are ideal for preserving (the meteorites)." I found this article interesting because it made me think of all the other meteorites that could have been on Earth, but destroyed over the years.

  • taylorl-3-bar
    6/07/2016 - 11:56 a.m.

    Cold dry conditions are best for preservation because the moments of ice sheets help concentrate the meteorites against the mountains. I chose this article because it looked interesting to learn about.

  • sofiap-3-bar
    6/08/2016 - 08:05 p.m.

    Cold and dry conditions are best for preservation the meteorites because, "The movements of ice sheets concentrate the meteorites against mountainsides. The intense, Antarctic winds erode the ice surface away. That leaves meteorites exposed." (paragraph 1) The meteorites are exposed making them easier for scientists to study. I think this is a very interesting article because it is cool to learn about how scientists study these meteorites and how they can be preserved.

  • lilyr-4-bar
    6/09/2016 - 12:10 a.m.

    Cold, dry conditions are best for preservation because they are damaged less easier. This is shown where it says, "...the cold, dry conditions of the South Pole are ideal for preserving them." I found this article interesting because I think it's a very cool phenomenon.

  • ethang-1-bar
    6/09/2016 - 11:58 a.m.

    Cold, dry conditions are best for preservation because the ice sheets will keep moving causing them to concentrate the meteorites against the mountains. As the article states above,"The intense, Antarctic winds erode the ice surface away. That leaves the meteorites exposed." I found this article interesting because even though Antarctica is really far south of the planet, it is still hit by meteorites as much as the continents here on the equator or near there.

  • ellerys-1-bar
    6/09/2016 - 12:00 p.m.

    Cold, dry conditions, such as Antarctica are ideal for meteorite preservation because of the ice sheets and how they move. "The ice sheets concentrate the meteorites against mountainsides", which erodes away the ice, exposing the meteorites.

  • jennaw-1-bar
    6/09/2016 - 12:01 p.m.

    Have you ever heard of the movie,ice age? Well in that movie there is many things that happen and one of those things is when the acorn gets stuck under the ice in the next movie the acorn is still there. This is because Ice preserves things and keeps them safe and usually in the same shape,form,and size. This is what makes cold dry conditions a very good condition to preserve many things.Something interesting I learned from this article is how these rocks that they found can actually help figure out the solar system.

  • jackr-2-bar
    6/09/2016 - 12:36 p.m.

    Cold, dry conditions are best for preservation because the winds can blow away the snow so the meteorites or anything that requires preservation is easily found. Also, since the ice sheets are constantly moving then the rocks and such are moved all in one spot. I found this article interesting because I do not know too much about Antarctica, so learning more is always a pleasure.

  • maxwellt-2-bar
    6/09/2016 - 12:37 p.m.

    Cold, dry conditions are best for preserving meteorites because of their high contrast and that they leave the meteorites visible. The article states that "The movements of ice sheets concentrate the meteorites against mountainsides. The intense, Antarctic winds erode the ice surface away. That leaves meteorites exposed". The meteorites being dark-colored from atmospheric fusion against the white of the ice makes them easy to spot, and the ice moves the meteorites to the places where they can be seen. I was interested in this article because I read a book that had a meteorite in Antarctica. The book was called Deception Point by Dan Brown.

  • maliab-2-bar
    6/09/2016 - 12:40 p.m.

    Cold and dry conditions are 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." I found this article very interesting because I found out, "They go back to a dynamic period about 3.9 billion years ago."

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