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27 December, 2002

Collecting Procedures

Today was the kind of day I expected in Antarctica. It started out cold, windy, and overcast and remained that way well into the afternoon. I really am making good use of the hand and foot warmers Carl gave everyone for Christmas. We went to Jacob's Nunatak and did systematic searching all morning.

The searching turned up a few meteorites, but less than we had hoped. So, after finishing the blue ice on the western side of Schuttaine Moraine at Jacob's Nunatak (named after John Schutt) we did our first walking systematic search. Overall, we're getting pretty good on the snowmobiles at doing systematic searches, but we drive better than we walk. We were crossing each others paths and walking nearly random paths looking at rocks. We chose to do this because the rocks were clustered too tightly to really see all of them from a snowmobile. This search yielded two more meteorites. We actually found enough meteorites today to break the 300 meteorite mark for the season so far.

How we collect the meteorites is actually something we take very carefully. We have three meteorite collecting kits with us so that there is usually someone close by who is packing a kit. The meteorite is first given a number with an aluminum tag and photographed with that number on a manual counter. The dimensions and fusion crust percentage are recorded and the meteorite can then be moved by a pair of sterile tongs. We do our best not to touch the meteorite or let it touch anything but the tongs, but accidents do occur, so we make a note of it in the record book. We take this care so that if anything anomalous is found later, they can be sure that it wasn't caused by us.

In 1996, it was reported that nanofossils of bacteria and other chemical signatures of life were found in a Martian meteorite found by the 1984 ANSMET team. One of the biggest questions asked by skeptics was whether that contamination happened after the meteorite landed in Antarctica. We have all witnessed meteorites in liquid water at temperatures well below freezing. The rocks beneath the ice re-radiate heat and a thin layer of ice can create a mini greenhouse effect allowing liquid water to exist. We want to make sure that if anything like that is ever found again, that we had nothing to do with any contamination.

After the meteorite is collected, it is dropped into a sterile plastic bag and sealed with freezer tape. The meteorites are brought back to camp and put in a storage unit called an isopod in which they will be shipped to the Johnson Space Center for further analysis. (See October journal entries for descriptions of what happens there).

After we finished searching the Jacob's Nunatak area, we went up to an area will we be searching shortly. Jamie took us to a spot that overlooked our camping area and had an amazing view of the mountains and glaciers. We spotted a black object about a quarter of a mile away on a precarious icy cliff. We thought it might be a large meteorite. Jamie volunteered to check it out and strapped on a pair of crampons and headed up to the object. We watched intently through binoculars and telephoto lenses as Jamie approached the object. With a grand motion, Jamie picked up the object and revealed that it was just a large plastic trash bag. He brought it back for inspection and none of us could figure where it came from. But this had to be the most effort given to recovering a trash bag.

The winds have picked up tonight, but hopefully they will die down and we can begin more blue ice systematic searching tomorrow. Otherwise, we will go back to the moraines.

Linda collecting, Jamie taking photos, and Nancy recording data as a meteorite is carefully collected.

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