17 November, 1996

November 17th, 1996

Martians in Antarctic Rocks!

Today we woke up early and went to test our equipment in the snow. we had some problems with the pictures we took of the shadows as there was so much ambient light, the shadows weren't clear. Before we could problem solve much, we went to church. There is a chapel here in Mcmurdo which has Sunday services for Roman Catholic's, Latter Day Saints and an Ecumenical Protestant service. Other faiths and religions can hold services as well. There is a Chaplain and a Pastor who administer the services. The chapel is really pretty with a stained glass window showing a map of Antarctica with a penguin, and then a loaf of bread and a cup, which are traditional Christian symbols.

After lunch we went back to our rooms and took the pictures with the camera that you might have noticed on the "ECW clothing issue page". Next we went to the fire station for the "Fire Expo". They showed us all the fire trucks, and let us try on their clothing. They also gave us Chili, which was really good. The fire trucks and everything are just like those in the states. The only thing is they have to be careful about water freezing in the pipes if the truck. They also run the ambulance here. Fire is actually a very real hazard in Antarctica, although you mightn't think it at first. Everything here is really dry, and therefore quite flammable. They don't have fire hydrants, so they also have a big tanker truck just to take water to the scene of a fire.

After dinner we went to the Sunday Lecture in the dinning hall. It was about the meteorites that you may have heard about in the news. One of the meteorites showed signs of what one group of NASA scientists postulates my be biogenic activity, signs of life. This was found in an unusual Meteorite found in Antarctica. Scientist have found the Antarctic ice sheet is the perfect place to search for meteorites. For one thing, any rock found on the sheet must have fallen from the sky. As well, the meteorites that hit the sheet are often imbedded in the ice. As they travel to sea in the ice sheet, some portions of the sheet gets trapped in areas like valleys. There, the ice sublimates, leaving behind the meteorites. In areas like these the concentration of meteorites is unusually high. No special equipment is needed to look for them, the human eye is the best thing to pick out the dark rock's form against the white snow.

Most of the meteorites found seem to come from material that was left over after our solar system formed. However one small class, the SNB's, actually is a much younger volcanic material which indicates that they came from a planet. Analysis of the glass imbedded in the rocks has revealed minute quantities of the atmosphere of the planet they came from. Based on that "fingerprint", as each planet in our solar system has remarkably different atmospheres, scientist's determined these specimen's are from Mars.

The "biogenic activity" reported by the NASA scientists could also have other causes. The scientist giving the lecture, Dr. Ralph Harvey, had analyzed the meteorite last year. Based on the chemical composition of the meteor, and a surprising lack of clay, he had published a paper indicating that the material thought to be biogenic, is actually caused by a unique chemistry of volcanic rock in low water high carbon dioxide environments. As no environment exists like this on earth, it is difficult to be certain what is going on. Dr. Harvey suggested that we be very careful as we speculate on what this new information really means. We lack evidence to make any real conjectures at this point.

Contact the TEA in the field at .
If you cannot connect through your browser, copy the TEA's e-mail address in the "To:" line of your favorite e-mail package.