The U.S. Antarctic meteorite program is a joint project of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Smithsonian Institution. NSF runs the collection program in Antarctica, while NASA and the Smithsonian curate the recovered meteorites by classifying, distributing and storing them.
Storm LEW85320 marked for collection with a snowmobile in the background
for size comparison
Collecting meteorites in Antarctica is a hazardous and physically difficult job that requires teamwork. Survival is the major part of the job, just as it is for astronauts in space. The environment is extremely dangerous to the human body, with high winds and temperatures well below freezing. Many layers of clothing offer some protection while working outside. Storms can cause complete whiteouts that are disorientating and make it impossible to go anywhere outside. Furthermore, the glaciers have numerous crevasses which can cause a person to fall to his/her death.
Teams of four to eight scientists work together collecting meteorites in remote field locations for about six weeks during the southern summer (Nov-Jan). The team leader and ice expert plan the expedition and are responsible for safety. Transportation to field sites is by helicopter or cargo airplane. On the ground the team travels by snowmobiles and lives in special polar tents. Teams use the buddy system for safety and are never alone. Cooking and heating are done with gas stoves; food is frozen, canned or freeze-dried; water is made by melting ice. Imagine not having to (or being able to) take a shower for over a month!
meteorites is the fun part of the job. In some areas they are the only
rocks around and are easy to see on the ice. In other areas, especially
glacial moraines, there are many Earth rocks and scientists must know
how to recognize various types of meteorites. Sometimes meteorites are
found while driving around on snowmobiles; other times they are identified
while walking or crawling on a rock-covered icefield. Each time a meteorite
is collected, the scientists document it by assigning it a number, photographing
it, and recording its geographic location and package it in clean bags.
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