Three federal entities, including NASA, are reaffirming their commitment to search for Antarctic meteorites, to help learn more about the primitive building blocks of the solar system and answer questions about Earth’s neighbors like the moon and Mars.
NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Smithsonian Institution (SI) recently renewed their agreement to search for, collect and curate Antarctic meteorites in a partnership known as ANSMET—the Antarctic Search for Meteorites Program. The signing of this new joint agreement advances the program for an additional decade, replacing an earlier agreement signed in 1980.
Since the U.S. began searching for meteorites in Antarctica in 1976, the ANSMET program has collected more than 23,000 specimens, dramatically increasing the number of samples available for study from Earth’s moon, Mars and asteroids. Among them are the first meteorites discovered to come from the moon and Mars, and the well-known ALH 84001 Martian meteorite, which helped renew interest in Mars exploration in the 1990s.
Meteorites are natural objects that fall to Earth from space and survive intact so they can be collected on the ground, or — in this case — on ice. Antarctica provides a unique environment for the collection of meteorites, because the cold desert climate preserves meteorites for long periods of time. Movements of the ice sheets can concentrate meteorites in certain locations, making them relatively easy for scientists to find. To search for meteorites, ANSMET deploys small field parties during the Antarctic summer (winter in the northern hemisphere). Even in summer conditions are harsh, with temperatures dropping to well below zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius). The ANSMET teams are flown to remote areas, where they live in tents on the ice and search for meteorites using snowmobiles or on foot…