A huge meteorite containing the oldest material in the solar system has been unearthed in Antarctica.
It is one of the biggest ever found – and sheds fresh light on the evolution of the sun and the planets.
The 17lb (7.6kg) cosmic treasure was easy to find.
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Its black composition contrasted starkly against the snow white ground.
The wilderness is the best place to search for surviving space rocks. Dry cold weather provides perfect conditions for preservation.
Active glaciers also churn up any ancient ones buried beneath the ice, reports New Scientist.
Dr Maria Valdes, of The Field Museum, Chicago, said: "When it comes to meteorites, size doesn't have to matter. Even tiny micrometeorites can be incredibly valuable from a scientific point of view.
"But, of course, to find such a large meteorite like this is very rare."
In the past century more than 45,000 meteorites have been found on the continent – but only about 100 as large.
Most are micrometeorites which range in size from tens to hundreds of grams.
Expedition members rode snowmobiles to reach promising landing sites previously mapped using satellite images.
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They discovered five new specimens near the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica research station.
A computer neural network helped reveal several locations relatively free of snow, which might otherwise have covered them up.
One contained the meteorites.
Professor Maria Schonbachler, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, said: "To find such a big one – this is kind of luck to be honest."
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The expert explained that the space rock appears to be an ordinary chondrite – the most common type.
These objects contain the oldest material in the solar system and probably originated from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The meteorite is being kept in a cool box to prevent thawing that could damage its delicate chemical structure.
It will be sent to a lab in Belgium for further analysis.
Dr Ashley King, of the Natural History Museum in London, said: "We don't tend to find too many meteorites in Antarctica that are as big as this. The more meteorite we have, the more sample that we have available for us to study and learn about the early solar system."
The next step is to determine what meteorites can tell us about the universe.
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