The potential meteorite impact site seen from AWI's Polar 6 aircraft. Photo by Tobias Binder, Alfred Wegener Institute.
PRINCESS ELIZABETH, Belgium, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Researchers in Antarctica have discovered what they believe is the remnants of a meteorite impact site.
It was spotted last month by a team of German scientists during their stay at Belgium's Princess Elizabeth station in East Antarctica.
"I looked out of the window, and I saw an unusual structure on the surface of the ice," scientist Christian Muller said in a video recalling how he spotted the impact site during an aerial survey. "There was some broken ice looking like icebergs, which is very unusual on a normally flat ice shelf, surrounded by a large, wing-shaped, circular structure."
The original purpose of the plane ride -- and their stay in East Antarctica -- was to survey surrounding bedrock, but the scientists' attention was quickly captured by the strange circle of broken ice.
"We were only flying that far in the north because the radar equipment had broken, and we didn't want to waste a good flying day," explained Graeme Eagles, a researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Germany. "It's been a tremendously exciting couple of weeks."
Muller looked into the scientific literature on Antarctica impacts and found a study in which scientists used infrasound measurements to triangulate the origin of a sonic boom recorded in the atmosphere in 2004. The numbers suggested the source was close to the ice circle found by the research team.
Six days after the initial discovery, the team of AWI scientists returned to take additional observations from the airplane. The researchers captured more photos and videos, and used a laser altimeter and radar data mapping technologies to plot the suspected impact site's contours in greater detail.
While much of the evidence suggests the work of a meteorite, researchers are hesitant to say for certain that they've found a decade-old crater. Because the scientists don't have the proper equipment to further explore the crater, a follow up study will have to wait.
"We're not yet at the stage where we can think in any great detail about how to go about investigating this circular structure any further," Eagles said in a recent interview.
"If we could generate a plausible argument that this might have been the site of an impact, then we'd like to return to the site to do in-situ work," Eagles explained. "We'd certainly bring in more people to widen the range of expertise."