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Back in 1969, as the Apollo astronauts were picking up pieces of the Moon, Japanese scientists were picking up pieces of other solar-system bodies in another hostile environment: the bitter cold of Antarctica. They found nine meteorites on the ice fields, all of which came from asteroids.
The discovery started a scientific treasure hunt that continues today. Teams of scientists from Japan, the United States, and elsewhere are getting ready for expeditions that’ll begin in a few weeks, as summer arrives in the southern hemisphere.
The first organized expedition took place in 1974. Since then, hundreds of meteor hunters have picked up more than 50,000 meteorites. Most of them are from asteroids, but a few are from Mars or the Moon.
The vast ice fields are a good site for meteor hunting because the Earth rocks are buried far below the ice. So there’s a good chance that any rock on top of the ice is from space.
Teams of hunters spend several weeks on the ice. Each day, they move slowly across the ice on snowmobiles or on foot. When they find a meteorite, they log its position, take its picture, and carefully store it inside a Teflon bag. At the end of the season, the American teams send their treasures to the Johnson Space Center for processing. After that, researchers from around the world can request samples for study — pieces of other worlds found in the otherworldly realm of Antarctica.
More about Antarctic science tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013
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