Palma was born in Fortín Sargento Cabral at the Esperanza Base, near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, and weighed 3.4 kg (7 lb 8 oz). His father, Captain Jorge Palma, was head of the Argentine Army detachment at the base. While ten people have been born in Antarctica since, Palma's birthplace remains the southernmost.
In late 1977, Silvia Morella de Palma, who was then seven months pregnant, was airlifted to Esperanza Base, in order to complete her pregnancy in the base. The airlift was a part of the Argentine solutions to the sovereignty dispute over territory in Antarctica. Emilio was automatically granted Argentine citizenship by the government since his parents were both Argentine citizens, and he was born in the claimed Argentine Antarctica. This is a sector of Antarctica claimed by Argentina as part of its national territory, although this claim is not internationally recognised and overlaps with British and Chilean claims.
He is featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the first person in history known to be born on the continent.