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28 December, 2002

Another day in the life of ANSMET...

No day of meteorite collecting in Antarctica is routine, but a certain regularity has set in. Nancy says that this usually happens around this time when we've been searching for a little over three weeks and still have almost three to go. I've noticed people in our group with questions about the upcoming pull-out and I must admit that some of my thoughts have turned to my New Zealand itinerary and what I'm going to do first when I get back to work at the high school. I think all of us are looking forward to showers and sleeping indoors again.

Today started like most. We woke at 7:00AM, but this morning the tent was about 10 degrees colder than normal. I heard the wind outside and was not as motivated as I could have been. We went back to Quiche Moraine, thinking that we would finish it up, but instead we recovered another 16 meteorites there, and some that don't fit the pattern we thought we established. It looks like we still have some of Quiche leftover.

At 11:00, Nancy and Jamie led us back to the "Mouthy Ice," a large blue ice field on the plateau above us that is shaped on the satellite photo like a giant mouth. They try to mix up the agenda every day so that we don't get bored searching the same moraine or ice field day after day. About the time we got up there, the wind died and the temperatures began to climb. We systematically searched for a couple of hours and Scott found the only meteorite of the area we searched. We barely scratched the surface of all there is to find there.

The Mouthy Ice area was originally searched by an ANSMET reconnaissance team in 1986-'87 and again the next year. They didn't systematically search it but still found several meteorites. I actually like the systematic searching better than the searching in the moraines. Today we seemed to get several breaks during the time we were setting up each sweep. Many of us would lay back on our Ski-doos and stare at the sky. The sky is very blue here, like the sky in Colorado, and for the same reason, elevation. Occasionally we see contrails left by the LC-130's going between the Pole and McMurdo. The contrails curve to match the curvature of the Earth. The poles are the only places that this phenomenon is visible. Another phenomenon we see frequently are sundogs, rainbow colored circles around the sun caused by the refraction of light through ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. When all the Ski-doos are shut off, it's perfectly quiet and peaceful. Then Scott starts singing hits of the '70's and '80's and we are ready to go.

The ice today was very hard on the Ski-doos. At one point, two of them had broken bogey wheels and another was having engine trouble. Bogey wheels act as the suspension for the snowmobiles and are fairly easily replaced. I usually have a couple of spares under the seat of my Ski-doo.

We did most of the repairs on a patch of blue ice that was really on the outskirts of our search area. Most blue ice is rippled and rough, but this looked like a frozen pond. If we had skates, we could have started a hockey game. We only found one meteorite here, but the area was beautiful. It was basically a large natural amphitheater surrounded by cliffs of a dark rock called the Ferrar Dolerite. This is a dark, igneous rock that was formed 180 million years ago when Antarctica separated from the Gondwanaland supercontinent. It looks a lot like it's close relative, basalt. Basalt is always the "word of the day" in my classroom. If someone says, "basalt," they get a high five from me. It's silly, but it keeps my students awake. If they were here today, high fives would be going all around.

We drove up on a moraine adjacent to these cliffs and searched the windscoops for meteorites. Scott pointed out that since this place wasn't searched by the earlier ANSMET team, we could very likely be the first people. Danny commented that we were going... "Where no man has gone before..." It's exciting thinking your footsteps may be the first in an area or that you may be the first to lay eyes on a rock. These cliffs were impressive, standing over 500 ft. tall and capped with pure white snow on top. At some angles, they almost looked like a giant ice cream cone.

We searched one more windscoop on the way back and challenged each other to see who could climb the furthest up the steep ice face. Inside the windscoop, the ice looks like a five-story frozen ocean wave; frozen right before it crashes. Scott and Danny wound up cutting footholds in the ice. We would climb up and slide on our backs all the way back down to a snowy landing at the bottom. The more complex the mind, the greater the need for play.

Tonight, we are expecting a call from the Rekki team. Nancy will be excited to tell them that we've found over 300 meteorites. Mild temperatures and a little sledding go a long way in keeping this team motivated to find meteorites.

Ski-doos in need of field repairs in paradise.

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