1 January, 2003
New Years Day
Boy have we been working hard lately! We are nearing the 400 meteorite mark and are hoping to break the 500 meteorite mark before we leave. The weather hasn't been cooperating, though. Yesterday started out calm, and relatively warm. By the time we started our searching, the wind had picked up to at least 15 kts., and the temperature was right at 0F. The toe warmers and hand warmers could barely keep up with the cold. Nevertheless, we recovered 17 meteorites before we called it a day.
These were some of the most beautiful meteorites I've seen this whole trip. Two of them appear to be achondrites. Meteorites basically fall into two groups, chondrites and achondrites. Chondritic meteorites come from small astreroids that never formed a core, mantle, and crust at the origin of the solar system. They are composed of chondrules, small round, spherical concretions that probably represent droplets of material from the protoplanetary disk that existed 4.6 billion years ago. Achondrites don't have chondrules and come from larger bodies that do have a core, mantle, and crust. They are much rarer and many have actually been traced to a specific asteroid, 4 Vesta. What's more exciting is that Martian meteorites and Lunar meteorites fall into the classification of achondrites. Saying that we found a couple of achondrites doesn't necessarily imply that we found meteorites from Mars or the Moon, but it does mean that's a possibility.
ANSMET exists to return all different types of meteorites so that qualified scientists can study them. NASA has worked with ANSMET for years as a repository and distributor of the meteorites. Dr. Carlton Allen of the Johnson Space Center is the curator of all of NASA's astromaterials including the rocks returned from the moon by the Apollo missions. Carl explained to me that the Johnson Space Center is a natural choice for a repository of Antarctic meteorites because they have had the laboratories and expertise to handle and distribute extraterrestrial materials since the days of the Apollo missions. Since NASA is a government agency, it has a "role and responsibility" to curate the Antarctic meteorite collection.
I also talked with the ANSMET P.I., Dr. Ralph Harvey, recently about NASA's role in ANSMET. Both he and Carl see NASA as a logical partner in the collection of Antarctic meteorites. Carl explained to me, "NASA's job is to explore the universe. [We are finding...] pieces of other worlds flying through space." Ralph also pointed out that NASA is very interested in finding more Martian meteorites. They provide us the most information on Mars without actually going there. NASA is funding the Rekki team because with more people looking for meteorites over a greater area, the chances increase that another Martian meteorite could be found. Carl calls ANSMET, "The most productive sample return mission..." since the Apollo days.
Ralph also enjoys involving NASA with ANSMET because, at heart, he is interested in the exploration of space. Dr. Cady Coleman is the second astronaut to join an ANSMET team, and will probably not be the last. Ralph commented that astronauts are physically fit, adventurous, and are able to complete a job under demanding conditions. That makes them ideal ANSMET members. NASA is also interested in sending astronauts and professionals like Dr. Dean Eppler to Antarctica because it's about the closest thing to a planetary surface mission that one can do on Earth. According to Ralph, "In some ways, it's very much like a science fiction story where astronauts come to Antarctica to train for a mission to Mars." Dean is actually keeping a journal of the dynamics of a small field team working under these conditions in order to help NASA to prepare astronauts for a Mars mission.
ANSMET has had a long standing relationship not only with NASA but the NSF and Smithsonian. The NSF makes Antarctic research possible, and the Smithsonian is a natural choice to keep a portion of each Antarctic meteorite on file. Linda Welzenbach is the member of our team who sees that each of these fragments is stored properly at the
Smithsonian. Therefore, there will always be a record of each meteorite collected in Antarctica.
Tomorrow, we plan to add more meteorites to the growing list of meteorites from Antarctica. If it's cold and windy again, we'll probably finish off a couple more moraines. I'd like to head back to the mouthy ice because we had such good luck there yesterday. Now, we're entering the home stretch for this field season.
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