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Rock Hunting

December 13, 2011

A team of scientists should be settling in on the glaciers of Antarctica this week for a little rock hunting. They’re looking for some of the most precious stones on the planet: stones that came from off the planet — chunks of asteroids, and maybe the Moon and even Mars.

The scientists are taking part in the Antarctic Search for Meteorites, a project that began in 1976. So far, it’s collected more than 17,000 specimens.

Antarctica is a great place to look for meteorites. There are very few Earth rocks atop the thick ice, so just about anything the scientists find is likely to be a meteorite.

Most of the meteorites are chips of the mountain-sized boulders known as asteroids. But over the years, about a dozen meteorites turned out to be from Mars. They were blasted into space when asteroids hit Mars, and eventually made their way to Earth.

The scientists are returning to a region known as the Miller Range, which has already yielded thousands of meteorites. They’ll remain there for several weeks, and will probably find hundreds more space rocks. The rocks will be shipped to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where they’ll be cataloged and made available to researchers around the world for study.

The Miller Range isn’t the only Antarctic location where scientists are studying the cosmos, though. Several telescopes operate at the south pole — a spot that was first reached 100 years ago. More about that tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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