Monday, October 8, 2007

Collecting Meteorites in Antarctica

Meteorites have been found in Antarctica since the dawn of exploration of that continent. The first Antarctic meteorite was found in 1912, by a member of Mawson's Australian Antarctic expedition. Other specimens were found as exploration continued into the 1960's, but few people made anything of it; you expect to find a few meteorites here and there all over the Earth, so finding a few against such a nice background was not considered a big deal. The key find came in 1969, when Japanese glaciologists exploring near the Yamato mountains discovered 9 specimens within an area about 3 kilometers across. Initially not much was made of it; falls of 10 or more stones at once are not uncommon, and this was thought to be the case. However, in 1971 a Japanese geologist gave a talk at a meeting of the International Meteoritical Society, and noted that the 9 specimens were of at least 5 distinct types, including some that were relatively rare. Clearly, the Japanese understood that there must be many other specimens out there. Another person who figured this out immediately was William (Bill) A. Cassidy from the University of Pittsburgh. Both parties tried to put meteorite hunting teams together immediately, and the Japanese efforts began to bear fruit in 1974, when they returned to Yamato and recovered 30 more meteorites. It was not until 1976 that US efforts got underway, and after about 30 days on the ice the ANSMET team, led by Bill Cassidy, returned with their first nine specimens. (ANSMET)

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