This Week in Science: 1/15 – 1/21


Bowie Funk, East Staff Writer

17 Pound Meteorite Discovered in Antarctica

On Wednesday of last week, a daring team of scientists went to recover meteorites in Antarctica, one of which being a monstrous 17 pounds. This team included Maria Valdes, a researcher for the Field Museum in Chicago. “Size doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to meteorites, and even tiny micrometeorites can be incredibly scientifically valuable, but of course, finding a big meteorite like this one is rare and really exciting,” Valdes said. She recorded that of the approximate 45,000 meteorites recovered from Antarctica, only about 100 were of this size.

The team was led by Vinciane Debaille, a planetary scientist at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium. “Going on an adventure exploring unknown areas is exciting, but we also had to deal with the fact that the reality on the ground is much more difficult than the beauty of satellite images,” Debaille said. He planned an expedition in the Summer months of Antarctica, which is in late December, but didn’t find this meteorite until very recently. However there is one question going unanswered, why would anyone go to Antarctica to find meteorites?

Well, firstly, Antarctica is extremely dry and considered a cold desert. This reduces exposure to air to the rocks, which breaks them down. This is due to the constant glacial changes going on, which buries the meteorites in a sort of icy box. It’s also easy to find the dark colored meteorites against the white snowy ground of the fields, which is mostly the case with large meteorites.

The biggest one was found in Namibia’s Namib Desert and is a record 132,000 pounds. For scale, a large right whale weighs around 100,000 pounds and the largest land animal ever (Patagotitan mayorum) weighed around 152,000 pounds. Despite this titanic meteorite’s weight, it is only about nine feet long, nine feet wide, and three feet thick.

World’s Oldest Runestone Discovered in Norway

Norwegian archaeologists have found the oldest recorded runestone, being nearly 2,000 years old. The stone is about one foot by one foot and was found in late 2021, but was not examined until Tuesday of last week.

Carbon dating of bones and wood found around the runes places them somewhere between year one and 250 AD according to Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History. These runes are actually quite common in the region and are the oldest written language in Scandinavia. Normally, runes would be placed at a burial site like these ones were, usually to signify the name of the deceased person and their honorable deeds, a sort of viking headstone if you will.

“We thought that the first ones in Norway and Sweden appeared in the years 300 or 400, but it turns out that some runestones could be even older than we previously believed,” runologist Kristel Zilmer said. These marks in the stone might tell us a lot about the early days in the Norse Empire and how viking society functioned during the days of the Roman Empire.

Fossilized Preserved Bird Skeleton Reveals a Secret

A few weeks ago, a tiny creature was discovered in the Liaoning region of China. It belongs to a greater group known as the Jehol Biota, which existed during the Lower Cretaceous nearly 100 million years ago and was covered in a previous article. Usually, these animals or plants are extremely well preserved, and that is the case for last week’s find. An article was published in the Frontiers in Earth Science and analyzed five skeletons of small birds from Jehol.

As with Cratonavis (a small bird covered in TWIS: 1/5-1/8), this small bird, called Sapeornis, was a victim of a natural cause, likely drowning due to its preservation quality. “Jehol Biota provides the most informative source for understanding Mesozoic ecology.” said corresponding author Dr. Yan Zhao, based at the Institute of Geology and Paleontology at Linyi University. “Better understanding of the diverse taphonomy of Jehol terrestrial vertebrates can help us finally understand more about the past and future of biological evolution,” Zhao said.