Antarctic Micrometeorites Provide Clues to Solar System Formation

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Researchers sifting through the pristine, cold snow in Antarctica have found micrometeorites that contain a bit of a surprise. The two micrometeorites, known as particles 19 and 119, contain extremely large amounts of carbon as well as excesses of deuterium. While this high organic content usually comes from distant interstellar space where molecular clouds gather to form new stars, other clues say these space rocks likely formed in our own solar system. This contradicts long-held notions that that all organic matter with extreme deuterium excesses have interstellar origins. Additionally, the meteorites could provide information about the protplanetary disk that formed our solar system.

(A) Backscattered scanning electron micrograph of particle 119. The carbon-rich areas appear dark (arrows); the bright inclusions are dominated by Fe-Ni sulfides and silicates. (B) High-resolution TEM image of particle 19. (C) Bright-field TEM image of particle 19. The lacey carbon film (13) is indicated as black arrows; the crystalline phases are Mgrich olivines (ol), Mg-rich pyroxenes (px), and Fe-Ni sulfides (S); OM, organic matter. Glassy aggregates (GEMS candidates) are highlighted in black squares (13). Image courtesy of Science/AAAS

Jean Duprat and colleagues working at the CONCORDIA polar station located in central Antarctica recovered the two micrometeorites from 40 to 55 year-old snow. In investigating their make-up to determine where they came from, the researchers identified crystalline materials embedded in particles 19 and 119 that indicate that they formed close to our sun, and much more recently than predicted.

Their findings imply that these well-preserved micrometeorites contain a record of the cold regions of our sun’s ancient proto-planetary disk, which eventually led to the formation of our solar system.

More studies of these and other meteorites could possibly reveal details of the first deliveries of organic materials to the primitive Earth.

The findings have been published in this week’s edition of Science.

Unexpected Life Found Under Antarctic Ice

Researchers in Antarctica got a surprise visit from a creature in a borehole 185 meters (600 feet) below the Antarctic ice, where there is usually no light. A Lyssianasid amphipod, a shrimp-like creature can be seen swimming in this video. A NASA team had lowered a small video camera to get the first-ever photograph of the underside of an ice shelf when the curious little 7 cm (3- inch) shrimp stopped by to check out the equipment. Scientists say this could challenge the idea of where and how forms of life can survive. Anyone else thinking Europa?
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Antarctica Pictures

Antarctica

Antarctica is one of the most remote places on Earth, and extremely difficult to visit. But there are many spacecraft constantly watching the southern continent, studying its climate and geography. Here are some amazing Antarctica pictures from space.

Here’s a picture of the entire continent of Antarctica seen from space. It was captured piece by piece by several spacecraft, and then stitched together into this amazing mosaic image.

Regional View Of Victoria Land, Antartica

This is a close up view of Victoria Land, in Antarctica. It’s a region of the continent that’s bounded by the Ross Sea, and it was discovered by James Clark Ross.

Close Up View Of Don Juan Pond, Antartica

This is a photo of Don Juan Pond, a tiny, extremely salty lake in Antarctica. It has a greater salinity than the Dead Sea or Lake Assal. It’s estimated to be about 30 times saltier than the ocean. It’s the only lake in Antarctica that never freezes.

Bellingshausen Sea, Antarctica

This is an image of the Bellingshausen Sea in Antarctica. It’s hard to see which parts of this image are over the ocean, and which parts are over the land.

Larsen Ice Shelf, Antartica

This photograph shows the break up of the Larsen Ice Shelf in 2001.

We’ve written many articles about Antarctica for Universe Today. Here’s an article about an unusual micrometeorite found in Antarctica, and here’s an article about an extremophile hunt in Antarctica.

If you’d like more info on Antarctica, check out the LIMA Mosaic Images of Antarctica site, and here’s a nice photo of the entire continent.

We’ve recorded several episodes of Astronomy Cast about Earth. Listen here, Episode 51: Earth.