Hunting for Antarctic Meteorites: A Free Boundary Problem

Michael Coughlan (University of Manchester)

G.205 Alan Turing Building,

Antarctica has proven in recent decades to be a rich source of high quality meteorites, much to the delight of planetary scientists. This abundance of meteorites is due to two factors. Firstly, motion of the Antarctic ice sheet concentrates debris into certain areas. Secondly, meteorites landing there are generally preserved due to the isolation of this barren continent.

However, an unexpectedly small proportion of iron-based meteorites have been found there. To explain this anomaly it is proposed that the high thermal conductivity of iron allows the meteorites to absorb large amounts of solar radiation and melt through the ice, becoming "lost".

This talk will outline the problem in detail and will describe the development of a mathematical model for the proposed phenomenon. The model of this process is a thermodynamic system with not one, but two free boundaries and attempts to find a difference in the dynamics between iron and other meteorites. Much work has been done to validate the model experimentally and to observe the phenomenon in the lab, which will also be discussed. Expect plenty of images, videos and indulgent Antarctic photography.

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