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21 December, 2002

Other ANSMET Science

One of the main misconceptions about ANSMET is that all we do is collect meteorites for later study. I had this same misconception. But the first half of today was dedicated to other related science.

We all got a very early start this morning when a twin otter landed in our camp at 6:00AM. There is no alarm clock that compares to the sound of a twin engine aircraft reversing engines in the middle of our camp. They were stopping to help us out by dropping off a cable that would allow our computers to work with the dataloggers.

This whole project began for me last summer in Cleveland, at Case Western Reserve University where ANSMET is based. I went to Cleveland and worked six weeks to prepare samples of a rock called the Ferrar Dolerite to be deployed here in in Antarctica. These rocks were cut into blocks, about four inches on a side and outfitted with temperature and relative humidity probes that hook up to a computer chip called a datalogger. The datalogger records the temperature and relative humidity.

These rocks were to be placed in a number of locations including on the ice, in the ice, on snow, on moraines, and on bedrock to simulate the conditions that the meteorites experience and to give us a better understanding of their weathering patterns. The dolerite has a similar composition to Martian meteorites and makes a good analog. A weather station has been set up to provide ground truth by which the dataloggers will be compared.

Unfortunately, this experiment doesn't work without a cable that was left in Cleveland and never made it to Antarctica. So, a few days ago, Jaime had a good idea that maybe the people at the Crary lab at McMurdo could make us one. They made it, but our resupply flight came from the pole, and there was no way to get the cable on the flight. So, instead of scheduling a special flight (which is expensive and difficult), they decided to put the cable on a flight that was already going from the South Pole to McMurdo. It never ceases to amaze me the lengths that the people go to here to make sure that science can be done. That flight left the pole at 4:00AM and Jaime had to call in on the radio with the weather update at that time.

"Mac-Ops, Mac-Ops,...this is Gulf-zero-five-eight...," began Jaime's call. They needed to know the hourly weather readings to know if they could complete a flight here. Jaime greeted them a little after six and got the cable. He came in the tent and discovered they had put too large of a stereo jack on one end. The plane actually only left for Beardmore South Camp and waited there for a storm to clear at McMurdo before they could leave. Even though the weather was beautiful here, they couldn't join us in meteorite hunting and had to be ready to go at a moment's notice.

The morning started out nice for this, our "first day of summer," but cooled off for the afternoon and improved this evening. Today is the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere, and our second one of 2002. I realized earlier that we've experienced six seasons this year: winter, spring, summer, fall, spring, summer. It doesn't really matter that it is the longest day of the year. The sun won't set here for a few more months.

This morning was dedicated to our other projects. Most of the team put together a project sponsored by NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory involving devices called "sensor pods." These are similar to dataloggers in that they record information on the temperature and relative humidity, only they work together, radioing the information from one pod to the next and to a "mother pod" kept in Nancy's tent. This is a new technology being tested by NASA in a variety of environments. They were deployed in all sorts of areas, much like what we wanted to do with the dataloggers and outfitted rocks.

Jaime was determined not to be defeated by the large stereo jack on the cable, and it turned out that I brought an extra pair of headphones that had a jack that looked like it would fit. Jamie cut off the jack and hardwired it into the cable. Unfortunately, there was a bend in the jack so it wouldn't fit in the datalogger. So Jamie cut off the jack from my MP3 player, which was a perfect fit. Despite numerous attempts, we still couldn't get the computer to communicate with the logger. I'm optimistic my headphones can be repaired.

The afternoon was spent meteorite hunting. If there were ever anything true about science, it's that as soon as you have a theory, someone or something proves it false. The theory behind the concentration of meteorites is that they fall all over Antarctica, and the flow of the continental glacier concentrates them in regions of slow moving or stagnant blue ice along the Transantarctic Mountains. So when Nancy proposed we search an area of fast moving ice, we didn't expect to find many. We found 30.

They came in batches, big and small; some in windscoops and some in the middle of the ice. This brings our total to 168. After hearing good news this morning from the Rekki team, our season total is already over 300. They seem to be having just as much success with a group of four as we are in a group of eight!

Jamie had to poke fun at this group of scientists this afternoon who think they have the ultimate theories on meteorites and their concentrations. He pointed out that scientists seem to love to argue. On that, they all agreed. That's part of the process of science, testing a hypothesis, and forming a theory. That theory holds until someone or something proves it wrong. Meteoritics is a budding science that is growing and developing every year. That's one of the things I love about it.

Sensor pod (left), Weather Station (middle) (constructed but not operational), and a flag left from a collected meteorite (right).

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