Hunting for meteorites

Every austral summer, a organisation of volunteers heads off to a remote segment of Antarctica to set adult a margin stay on a ice. For a subsequent month, they hunt a ice and circuitously waste piles left by glaciers for dim rocks that competence be supernatural in origin. The module is called a Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET).


ANSMET has been led for a past 20 years by geologist Ralph Harvey of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The National Science Foundation (NSF) supports margin operations, NASA curates a recovered meteorites, and a Smithsonian Institution provides long-term curation comforts for a collection.

Over a years many Washington University in St. Louis geologists, physicists and astrophysicists have volunteered to help. This year it was a spin of Christine Floss, a investigate highbrow of production in Arts Sciences.

Why do scientists demeanour for meteorites in Antarctica?
Meteorites don’t tumble some-more mostly in Antarctica than in other tools of a world, yet in Antarctica those descending on high-altitude ice fields are carried by issuing ice toward a ocean. Some of a ice streams run adult opposite barriers such as a Transantarctic Mountains and are blocked. Wind erosion afterwards solemnly brings stones embedded in a ice — infrequently for hundreds of thousands of years — to a surface. It is this thoroughness resource that creates Antarctica a good place to demeanour for meteorites.

It is also loyal that a dim stones uncover adult good opposite a blue ice, a heavily dense freezing ice that looks blue given there are no froth in it. But this year we found some-more meteorites in moraines than we did on a ice, even yet they’re most harder to find there.

When did a hunt for meteorites in Antarctica begin?
In a 1970s a Japanese group picked adult 10 or 20 meteorites during random, and when they were examined, they incited out to be of many opposite forms — not only many fragments of a few meteorites.

Bill Cassidy, a highbrow during a University of Pittsburgh, satisfied that this meant some kind of thoroughness resource was during work. He began to write proposals to a NSF seeking a substructure to account systematic searches. It took him 3 years, yet he got appropriation in a finish and a module has now been using for 38 years.

ANSMET is fundamentally a use project. Scientists assistance find a meteorites yet a stones are afterwards shipped to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, that creates them accessible to scientists who wish to investigate them, and, eventually, to a Smithsonian Institution.

How critical has a annual hunt been for science?
It has totally revolutionized a approach people consider about meteorites and what can be schooled from them.

For example, a initial lunar meteorites were found in Antarctica and that find was pivotal in convincing people that, yes, meteorites could be ejected from a vast physique — not only a small asteroids yet also a vast world — and launched on a arena that will move them to Earth.

People had found meteorites elsewhere that they suspicion were Martian, yet a orbital dynamics folks pronounced there’s no approach we can get a meteorite from Mars to land on Earth. The fact that rocks could make it from a moon to Antarctica meant that a orbital dynamics models indispensable to be revised.

So what’s critical is not that we collect lots of meteorites yet that we find some-more of a singular and engaging ones.

What was a day like?
All 8 of us had Ski-Doos, and we’d line them up, uniformly spaced, on a ice, and brush an area. If anyone saw something that looked like a meteorite, they stopped, waved, and everybody walked over to request and collect a stone. Then we returned to a Ski-Doos and kept driving.

Other days we’d expostulate over to a moraine and travel around a moraine looking. We’d plant a dwindle whenever we found a meteorite and afterwards come behind to collect them all.

What were we looking for?
A glossy alloy membrane — a thin, slick cloaking that forms when a meteoroid entering Earth’s atmosphere gets prohibited adequate that a aspect melts and refreezes.

I found some meteorites, yet nowhere scarcely as many as a mountaineer Johnny Schutt, who’s been doing this given 1980. He speckled one after another.

Why do we need mountaineers?
To stop us from doing anything foolish like descending in crevasses, yet they were also a ones who did all of a organizational work for a month-long camping expedition.

I had really small camping knowledge before going on this trip; fundamentally dual weeks during a KOA. we didn’t discuss that to Ralph Harvey, a principal investigator, when we practical for a program. we told him when we met in a Dallas airfield on a outbound leg.

Apparently he told positively everybody else on a team, given they all knew.

I hear we set a collection record.
One member of a group was Ryan Zeigler, who warranted his master’s and doctorate in geology during Washington University and is now a lunar representation curator during a Johnson Space Center. He wanted to mangle a record for a series of meteorites collected in one day.

Nobody knew accurately what a record was yet we suspicion it was about 100. One moraine was amazing; we couldn’t spin around though anticipating a meteorite. And Ryan was a male with a mission. We found 172 stones that day.

How many did a group find in all?
We found 562 in total, that might sound like a lot, yet an progressing hunt of a same area had found 900 or so. On a other hand, we had a lot of bad continue days when white-outs or clever winds kept us holed adult in a tents.

Would we do it again?
I desired it. It was so pleasing there and we had such a good time.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

Leave a Comment