Meteorite Monday: The Antarctic Search for Meteorites

Today’s Meteorite Monday will be a short one. I’m in the thick of finishing my senior project about the meteorite I’ve been working on for over a year and a half. Today I wanted to touch briefly on the NSF funded Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET). This is one of the most productive, publicly funded ventures in the hunt for meteorites. In its 37 years of existence, the scientists at ANSMET have recovered nearly 20,000 meteorites from the cold, barren ice-fields of the Antarctic. This continent is perfect for the recovery of meteorites because it’s dry, devoid of vegetation and sees little in the way of sediment build-up. All this leads to conditions where meteorites, black from their fusion crust, can easily be recognized against the white backdrop of the slow-moving ice.

One of the ~400 meteorites recovered from Antarctica during the 2012-2013 season. (Image from Planetary Science Research Division at the University of Hawai'i- Manoa)

One of the ~400 meteorites recovered from Antarctica during the 2012-2013 season. (Image from Planetary Science Research Division at the University of Hawai’i- Manoa)

Some famous meteorite alumni from past ANSMET expeditions include the first two lunar meteorites Yamato 791197 and Alan Hills 81005. The martian meteorite, Alan Hills 84001, was also recovered from Antarctica. This is the martian meteorite that was thought to have fossilized martian microbes. The first two digits of the number is the year that the meteorite was found, and generally speaking, the name, i.e., Alan Hills, is the region where it was found.

Once these meteorites are found, they’re sent to Johnson Space Center where they’re classified and made available for study by qualified meteoriticists and planetary science researchers.

Here’s a cool YouTube video showing how the work is done: