Ungrouped Iron Meteorites in Antarctica: Origin of Anomalously High Abundance

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Science  24 Aug 1990:
Vol. 249, Issue 4971, pp. 900-902
DOI: 10.1126/science.249.4971.900


Eighty-five percent of the iron meteorites collected outside Antarctica are assigned to 13 compositionaily and structurally defined groups; the remaining 15 percent are ungrouped. Of the 31 iron meteorites recovered from Antarctica, 39 percent are ungrouped. This major difference in the two sets is almost certainly not a stochastic variation, a latitudinal effect, or an effect associated with differences in terrestrial ages. It seems to be related to the median mass of Antarctic irons, which is about 1/100 that of non-Antarctic irons. During impacts on asteroids, smaller fragments tend to be ejected into space at higher velocities than larger fragments, and, on average, small meteoroids have undergone more changes in orbital velocity than large ones. As a result, the set of asteroids that contributes small meteoroids to Earth-crossing orbits is larger than the set that contributes large meteoroids. Most small iron meteorites may escape from the asteroid belt as a result of impact-induced changes in velocity that reduce their perihelia to values less than the aphelion of Mars.

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