Scientists say they’ve found a space rock for the ages in Antarctica — an extremely rare meteorite that contains some of the oldest material in the solar system.
“When we saw this one just sitting by itself in the middle of the blue ice, we all got so excited,” Chicago Field Museum researcher Maria Valdes told the Chicago Tribune.
The 17-pound meteorite, described as about “the size of a gourd,” was discovered Jan. 5 by an international team at the end of an 11-day expedition.
The extraordinary rock, which contains material from billions of years ago, is one of the largest meteorites ever found on the continent and likely originated in the Main Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, The Independent reported.
“To put the meteorite’s size in perspective, of the 45,000 meteorites retrieved from Antarctica over the last century, only 100 are this size or larger,” said Chicago’s Field Museum, which was part of the expedition.
Researchers on snowmobiles spent the better part of two weeks combing ice fields in search of meteorites when they made the stunning find just as they were about to wrap up their exploration, according to The Tribune.
Valdes said they were hesitant about celebrating at first “because we knew that if we found a meteorite, this was really the mother lode. On the last day, the last hour.”
The team became convinced it had indeed found a rare space rock when members discovered it was “the size of a bowling ball but twice the weight of a bowling ball,” Valdes told the paper.
The rock had what Valdes described as a “fusion crust” — a glassy outer layer that slightly melted when it entered the atmosphere. It was also worn down, a sign it had been on Earth for many ages.
The meteorite was sent to The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Belgium for chemical analysis.
“All meteorites have something to say about the evolution of Earth,” Valdes said. “Size doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to meteorites, and even tiny micrometeorites can be incredibly scientifically valuable.”
Most of the 45,000 meteorites found in Antarctica over the past century have only weighed a few grams, The Independent noted.
The find came months after NASA successfully destroyed a 530-foot-wide asteroid in a test run to prepare for the possibility of a massive space rock hurling toward and threating Earth, such as the 6.2 mile-wide asteroid that scientists believe wiped out the dinosaurs millions of years ago.
Read More: Out-of-this-world discovery in Antarctica