Hidden Volcanoes Melt West Antarctic Ice Sheet [Representational Image]
Hidden Volcanoes Melt West Antarctic Ice Sheet [Representational Image]Reuters

Scientists have discovered a rare 18-kg (40-pound) meteorite during an expedition in eastern Antarctica.

The meteorite is the largest extraterrestrial rock found in nearly 25 years in the region. "This meteorite was a very unexpected find for us, not only due to its weight, but because we don't normally find such large meteorites in Antarctica", said Vinciane Debaille, a geologist from Université Libre de Bruxelles, who led the Belgian team during the expedition.

"This is the biggest meteorite found in East Antarctica for 25 years, so it's a very special discovery for us, only made possible by the existence and location of Princess Elisabeth Antarctica."

A total of 425 space rocks, weighing about 75kgs, was discovered by a team of international scientists, during a 40-day expedition on the Nansen Ice Field, located 140 kilometres (86 miles) south of the International Polar Foundation's Princess Elisabeth station.

Initial tests revealed that the large rock is an ordinary chondrite - stony meteorites that are commonly found in Earth. The discovery has come just days after tiny fragments of a meteor streaked over Central Russia, injuring more than 1,000 people and causing damage to buildings and property. Based on their analysis, researchers found that the Russian meteor is also an ordinary chondrite.

Every year, scientists are sent to Antarctica to collect the space rocks. These meteorites are buried frozen and the cold climate preserves the chemicals inside the rock. A special thawing process is conducted to prevent water from seeping into the rocks.

Apart from chondrite rocks, researchers believe that they might have found one meteorite from Mars and another one from asteroid Vesta - one of the largest and brightest asteroids in the solar system.

They hope the findings will help in understanding the formation of solar system. "We study meteorites in order to better understand how the solar system formed, how it evolved, how the Earth became such a unique planet in our solar system", said Debaille.

Click here to see scientists searching for meteorites in Antarctica.