A few years ago I was approached with a tempting offer that I'll bet many of you would jump at the chance to accept.
It came from Ralph Harvey, who coordinates the U.S. National Science Foundation's annual expedition to collect meteorites in the ice fields of Antarctica.
"Wanna come?" he inquired.
"Hmm," I thought, "what an opportunity!"
But then reality sunk in. Among other things, it would've required a two-month commitment. At the time, I was so swamped with work at Sky & Telescope that I just couldn't get away for so long. And for most of that time I'd be wrapped up in so many layers of protective clothing that my wife would have had trouble telling me apart from the Pillsbury Doughboy. So I declined Ralph's offer.
But what an adventure that would be! Ever since 1976, teams of scientists have headed to Antarctica every austral summer to scoop up meteorites by the thousands that are just lying there atop the ice.
It's not that stones fall from the sky near the South Pole more often than anywhere else. But when they do plop onto Antarctica's ice fields, they sometimes migrate with the floes until they encounter a mountain range. Then the floes can stall, and over time the plateau's fierce, dry winds relentlessly evaporate (technically, sublimate) huge volumes of ice and snow. But the meteorites stay put, and over hundreds of thousands of year they accumulate atop the icy surface.
The NSF's Annual Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) is once again at the bottom of the world, where it's midsummer. Today, for example, it's a balmy -8°F (-22°C). Japanese meteoriticists have joined the annual pickup game as well, though they're elsewhere on the continent.
Now, thanks to modern technology, you can follow the exploits of Harvey, Dave "Duck" Mittlefehldt, John Schutt (aka “Johnny Alpine”), and four other
frozen fools adventurous souls with them. Check out the team's near-daily field dispatches for all the exciting details. The team will remain "Really Down Under" through January.
And, Ralph, if you're reading this, I'm willing to reconsider!