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29 December, 2002

Sublime Beauty

The word "sublime" is really overused, but it really applies to a region we passed through on our way to systematically search a large portion of the blue ice. The area was filled with pinnacles that looked like they were created artificially for a museum display on Antarctica. They didn't look real. We also saw a Phanta Morgana (sp?), an optical illusion produced from a temperature inversion. As two layers of air meet, they produce an illusion that looks like a mountain or cliff on the horizon. Sailors used to see these and thought they were seeing storm clouds. These are often seen on the Antarctic coast and make large, tabular icebergs look taller than they really are.

After a pleasant morning searching once again at Harvaine Moraine, the bottom dropped right out of the thermometer. By the time we were having lunch, the temperature was +3F and the wind was picking up. This afternoon was one of the coldest I've felt since we began searching. Not even my toe and hand warmers could keep up.

We dropped down into a remarkably smooth area on the western side of the Mouthy Ice, just west of Jacob's Nunatak. That area had been systematically searched years ago and a number of meteorites were found. Over 30 more were discovered today, and were added to the eight we found at the moraine this morning. This was another occasion where we didn't expect to find many, but still did. Much of the ice was covered in snow, and that was the case years ago when this area was searched. The meteorites we found today were probably buried years ago.

I still believe that meteorite searching is like fishing. It seemed like the people on either side of me were finding all the meteorites and I was finding none. My luck changed in the last hour of the day, when I found three. We all go in streaks, good and bad. It's funny, but we can always recognize the others on the Ski-doos at a glance even though we're all wearing just about the same thing. Nancy and Jamie wear blue jackets so they are instantly recognizable. Linda is the shortest and wears the bearpaw mittens making her distinctive. Dante and Danny look a lot alike because they both have dark beards, and usually wear windbreakers instead of their parkas. Danny however wears a face mask and goggles while Dante has sunglasses that make him look like a rock star. Carl has become a superhero we call "Blueman," because he wears a blue balaclava and goggles that cover up all of his facial features. Scott is his sidekick and has occasionally worn a blue balaclava as well. I don't know how the others know its me. It might be my John Denver mirrored glacier glasses or my svelte frame.

The Rekki team is half our size, but I'll bet they use the same techniques to recognize each other on the ice. They haven't been on the ice since their move last Friday because of snow and a lack of wind to drive the snow off the ice. Even if the weather is nice, they can't search for meteorites because they are all covered in snow. Despite taking a couple of tent days, their spirits are high and they're not disappointed at having 237 meteorites so far.

Dr. Cady Coleman, an astronaut with the Rekki team arranged a conference call with the International Space Station last night. The entire Beardmore team filled our tent and we took turns asking questions of the astronauts on board. It was a technical miracle that we could link two satellite phones with Mission Control in Houston who then patched us in to the Space Station. It was actually easier to understand the astronauts than it was the Rekki team over the phone. The highlight of the evening was when Scott talked to a Russian cosmonaut on board in Russian. It was difficult to understand what they were saying over the phone, but was almost impossible for Scott to understand the cosmonaut. Nevertheless, Scott understood him thanking him for speaking to him in his native language.

Tomorrow, we will pick up right where we left off today. I imagine the mouthy ice will yield many more meteorites.

Dante, Linda, and Nancy enjoying lunch surrounded by the serrac-like pinnacles.

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