Posted by & filed under 2013/ 2014 Field Season.

 

Sample Return- Barb with a beautiful large meteorite, one of several unusually large individuals we found today – 13 meteorites but in mass it was a good haul!

When I describe to people how we search for meteorites out here – eight people on skidoos, looking with our eyes and collecting with our hands – a natural question that comes up is, why don’t we use robots for that? After all, we send some pretty sophisticated robots to do the work of humans in other inhospitable climates, like mines, ocean floors, and Mars. I’ve been giving this some thought this season. It turns out humans are actually pretty efficient at searching for meteorites.

One reason humans are better is that it’s difficult to come up with absolute criteria for positively identifying meteorites in the field. They typically have a fusion crust, except when it is weathered away. They are typically black, except when they are brown because the interior is exposed. They typically have a lustrous or iridescent appearance, except some don’t. They typically are neither squared off nor round, but some are. They typically contain metal, except the achondrites. And so on – you get the idea. Yet, ANSMET teams typically return only a few percent of “meteor-wrongs,” or terrestrial rocks that aren’t meteorites. This is because the human brain is really good at telling “same” from “different.” Once we each build a mental library of the kinds of terrestrial rocks that are out here, we are good at spotting things that are different, even if we have only a subconscious reason for spotting it rather than explicit decision rules.

Another reason humans are best is that meteorites in the wild aren’t big rocks sitting on a plain background. They are cupped in the ice, partially buried in snow, or behind terrestrial rocks in a moraine. We use our ability to look at different angles to tell shadows from rocks, to use the sun to see crystals glint, and our ability to pick up the rock and really look at it up close. This is an enormous advantage over rovers. I am a member of the Mars Exploration Rovers team (yes, Opportunity is still going strong at 10 years!) and we struggle every day with evaluating images of rocks from single vantage points or sun angles. I am fond of saying that a geologist gets an enormous amount of information from a rock simply by picking it up (density or heft), gripping it (is it coherent or crumbly), and turning it in the sunlight (does it have crystals and holes? what shape and size are the crystals?). As of yet, rovers can’t do this.

Even with all the logistical problems of getting a bunch of meatbags, all our food, and our fuel out here, we’re still a cost-efficient and effective “sample return” mission. We bring back about 1700x(!) as much material in a typical year as a robotic sample return mission could, for a fraction of the cost. Don’t misunderstand me – we need both humans and robots exploring the solar system together. But after 30 years of honing, ANSMET is optimized for grabbing these readily available, but remote, Antarctic samples right now.

 

-posted by…..  Barb

Note from editor (rph).  I get asked this informally dozens of times a year, and very seriously (by funding agencies) every year or so.   Barb’s hit the nail on the head here.   My shorter version of an answer is “intuition”.  The human eye-brain system has evolved over millions of years to be superb at taking a little bit of visual information and spinning it into a complete story-  is that waving stalk of grass over there a lion ready to eat me,  or did a bird just take off?   We’re good at looking at broad, ordinary scenes and immediately noticing what’s different (think “Where’s Waldo?”).   Robots are not good at this……   yet.       From an economics standpoint,   the upcoming Osiris REx mission barb mentions will recover about 60 grams from an asteroid.  that sample in front of her is at least 10x that;  one sample.  And the Osiris-REx budget would cover our costs for almost 1000 years (about 970 to be precise).   For what we do,  human searches win on the “science per dollar” and “science per minute” charts.

 

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Manavi decked out on Isocline Hill

It was a beautiful, balmy day today around the Miller Range camp area. It’s amazing how the lack of winds makes such a big difference to our comfort levels out in the field. Once we heard that our resupply flight had been cancelled for the day, we took off on a systematic search (our first since the snow fall a few days ago). Despite about 50% snow coverage of the ice field, we ended up collecting 48 meteorites today – our daily best so far! Back at camp, we treated ourselves to a much deserved Mexican happy hour – salsa, guacamole, and taco chips (thanks to the JSC folks for the chips!). It was the very first day since I got to the Miller Range that we have been able to hang out in the open with minimum layers on.Greetings ANSMET-blog fans!

Not every day has been as comfortable out here. I’m a newbie with ANSMET and I’ll say outright that it’s tough out in the field in Antarctica. However, I’ll also add that it’s the kind of tough that you want to subject yourself to again and again if you believe in the project and are in love with the idea of exploration. I’ll come back again in a heartbeat. So, the toughest day was when the air temperature was -11 F (-23 C) with 15-18 knot winds and we were out hunting for meteorites. On a day like this I have a million layers on. On my head I have on a wool skull cap, fleece woolen cap that covers my ears, a windproof balaclava, and a thick wool neck gaiter. I wear snow goggles. No part of my face is exposed to the elements. Then I have on expedition weight merino wool thermal underwear with a thick fleece layer, a 800 ct down jacket. On my legs, it’s pretty much the same: thermals, fleece, and down pants, but I add a wind proof layer as well. On top of all this, I wear the USAP issued Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) overalls that are windproof and Big Red (Goose Down Red Parka). I’ve worn Big Red everyday except today when I had to peel off layers. A pair of wool liner socks and thick wool socks work great on my feet. In fact, I’m a little too warm in them. The bunny boots keep me plenty warm. On my hands I wear a pair of polypropylene liner gloves and down mittens. To my pleasant surprise, I’ve been fairly warm even on the worst weather day. My fingers get cold sometimes but that can usually be correlated to having my hands out of the gloves for a long time (while collecting meteorites) or not having had enough to eat. Eating high fat food has been my number one method to stay warm. In the immortal words of my awesome tent-mate, Jani (a 3 time ANSMET vet), “if it’s not fried in butter or bacon grease, it’s a waste of my calorie intake”. We add chunks of butter to everything we cook in our tent. We cook bacon in the morning and then fry our lunch in the grease. It’s my dream diet! We need to consume at least 3000-4000 calories a day to stay warm and survive out here. Breathing the cold and dry air burns up the most calories. As soon as I get cold in the field, I eat a meat stick or a bar of chocolate and I can feel the blood rushing to my extremities. It works like a charm every single time! Another reason for getting cold in the field is dehydration. I try to keep myself hydrated as much as possible. Warm Tang or Raro works very well when we are out on the ice. Water is a precious commodity out here. We chip ice (which is hard work) and melt it to either drink or cook with on a daily basis.

Everyone here has their own way to cope with the cold – this is how I do it. Once you conquer the cold and are comfortable, everything else is so much easier.

Hope everyone is well out there! More in the next blog post.

-posted by Manavi

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Yellow tented harbor

I have seen waves before, out on the Blue Ice. Translucent, topaz swells undulate and interfere generating domical forms. Tiny, superposed, ubiquitous ripples reveal the relentless ravages of wind and sun. But out here, on the divide between ice sheet snows and plateau winds monstrous forms emerge. Large blue ice waves slosh and combine into protruding whalebacks. Massive, white sastrugi are raggedly sculpted into perilously perched fins. These contorted columns and canyons confuse and conspire towards another approaching oddity – in the distance, mighty and deep blue, a giant wave appears looming and rolling towards us, dwarfing tiny skidoos. The 100-year-storm wave, capped with frothy sastrugi, threatens to break. As we draw closer, the behemoth slowly subsides allowing us to gradually crest, where we gather ocean-borne treasures. Permitting us to be surfers on the massive swell so we can survey the deep trough far below, the expansive white-capped, blue ice surface beyond, and distant, snowy mountains framing a tiny, yellow-tented harbor.

Jani

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A meteowrong, but a cute one

We awoke today to find our neighborhood greatly changed, namely, covered in snow! The fresh snow had sufficiently covered our snowmobile tracks and changed the landscape to remind us, yet again, how truly isolated and awe inspiring the Miller Range is. The sky was bright and clear, though with all the sun one could ever ask for, the fresh snow crystals sparkled and danced like the stars the ANSMET team dreams of seeing. While snow is a beautiful sight, we’d prefer to be seeing meteorites. Unfortunately, the half inch of snow was enough to cover much of the blue ice that had been exposed and many meteorites along with it. We spent the morning collecting specimens that we’d already found in the moraine close to home since these were marked with flags and relatively easy to dig out. We found all that had been marked plus one that hadn’t yet been found – 61 in total! There was no exposed blue ice in sight so we went exploring to determine the extent of the ice coverage and survey the local geology. To get a view of the area, we climbed to the top of Mount Schutt (Johnny made it to the top first and we don’t know anyone else who’s climbed it so that must be its name, right?). From there, we could see lots of snow but unfortunately, no blue ice. All we need is a wind storm powerful enough blow all that snow away and allow us to get back on the ice tomorrow to search for more meteorites. The wind has picked up significantly since we’ve been back in camp this evening, and, optimists that we are, we’ve got the Skidoos covered in anticipation of a night of gale force winds. In case that doesn’t work, though, if you happen to have an industrial size and strength snow blower and could deliver it to the Miller Range (83deg30′S, 157degE) just as soon as you can, we sure would appreciate it. We’ve been working on rigging one up ourselves, but we seem to be missing a few parts. Thanks!

Impending snow while refueling snowmobiles

 

Steve and Alex morning faces

-posted by Morgan. (Editing by rph)

note from rph, i can’t get captions to work right on my ipad, so they may look funny

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Ralph (the website maintenance guy and PI of ANSMET) here-

 

I just want to warn our readers (particularly loved ones of the field party) that I’m stepping away from full speed internet (gasp!) until very late Monday (13 Jan).  That’s probably going to mean few or no posts for a few days- software glitches mean most of the posts from the field require manual labor to make it to the internet.   I will return to the civilized world very late Monday, so the next edited post will probably be Tuesday.

And for those of you wondering why we don’t just fix the glitches,  ANSMET teaches you not to take apart and reassemble a working airplane in flight just because the autopilot doesn’t work quite right…….

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A Christmas Reading from John and Jim

After making rather merry during our Christmas celebrations last night, our spirits were higher than the wind, so we got out and searched all day today. A storm was pushing in from the east, over the Ross Ice Shelf, and this competed with the southern katabatic winds for control of the MIller Range, sowe had alternating clouds and sunlight. This makes for interesting searching, because on one hand, rocks stand out very well against the dull ice surface. On the other hand, all rocks look dark, like meteorites, so we had to recalibrate. Some little presents from Cecilia, Linda, and other JSC folks (those who curate the meteorites, and thus open every single package we wrap up from Antarctica) even sneaked their way to the ice surface and posed as meteorites (thanks for the treats, ladies!). We ended up searching mostly on the Big Ice, where basically every rock we see is a meteorite, and we collected 45 on the day! This morning was windy and very cold, and it looked as though the katabatics were going to win. By evening, however, Johnny noted a gentle easterly wind, and soon thereafter, we had snow.

 

Here we are filling up our skidoos before coming in for the night. Luckily we got in a rare game of frisbee just before everything went white. Cross your fingers that the snow will fall sparsely, that the winds will blow, and that we’ll get out again tomorrow.

A morning pic of Steve and Alex and a Christmas journal reading pic of Johnny and Jim (can you tell we’re on a mountain of gifts and tasty food?) rounds out the compendium of pairs portraits for the team. We’ll continue to show our increasingly rosy cheeks as the season progresses.

 (editor’s note:  these pics didn’t come through, I’ll try to add them later)

Thanks to Cecilia, Linda, and Ann for the awesome Christmas prezzies and cards, and to Cammie for the text!

-posted by Jani  (edited by rph)

 

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We love pockets!

Just as Shackleton was tent bound more than 100 years ago on this day due to weather, so are we. Last night’s dreams were influenced by strong katabatic winds that find our tents minor obstacles to be trifled with and whipped about in a frenzy of creaks, slaps, and groans. The whistling gravity-driven zephyrs steadily increased through the “night” to over 8 meters per second, transporting snow and ice crystals thus making for a ground blizzard, that when mixed with a cold 32 degrees of frost causes meteorite collecting to be not only difficult but dangerous. Collection requires bare-hands to do some of the more intricate tasks and with the risk of cold-related injuries to exposed skin in these conditions it is most prudent to wait for better weather. The polar acoustics also include ice crystals colliding with the walls of one’s tent producing a sound similar to that of wind-driven rain. It is amazing how we adapt to the sounds associated with being buffeted and sleep well amidst the fury surrounding us, and are more disturbed by the quiet of calm winds and the deafening silence that will once again blanket our camp.

You may recall that our team had not yet reunited by Christmas, prompting us to forgo our celebration until we were complete. Alex suggested that we could share a meal on January 7th, the traditional Russian Christmas, but good weather found us out hunting meteorites that day. We decided to hold off on our celebration until a “tent day”, when we would have the energy to fix a collective meal and exchange presents. Tonight we will meet for that shared dinner and to open gifts under our holiday tent.

While Shackleton was worried about diminishing supplies consumed while tent-bound, that could spell disaster. We take advantage of the lull to rest and recuperate from the demands of our activities, including resting highly contagious skidoo-thumb injuries. These days are also used to read, record events and feeling in our expedition diaries and prepare more elaborate meals. Today Alex and I shared a sausage, onion, peppers, and cheese egg-scramble, and now my friend is now laboring over a hot stove to make a secret dessert.

Alex in his nest

Tent organizing and cleaning, while boring, helps us to find some of our belongings. Living in Antarctica and dealing with all the accompanying complications requires a lot of gear and clothing. It is a challenge to keep everything arranged so that you can find it when you need it, “Big Red”, our goose down coats have so many pockets that recovery of a specific item becomes a one person shell game at times, so it is the wise hunter who has a place for everything, and everything in its place. There is method to the routine of our tent lives; when returning from the cold our “bunny boots” along with other items of outer wear are hung from the top of the tent to dry, while our insulated clothing is pushed against the walls of the tent on the upwind side to create a warm sleeping nest.

It is now time for me to prepare my portion this evening’s feast, so I will I bid all farewell and good night.

The Thawing Zone

 

Happy 2014,

- posted by Steve  (editing by rph)

 

Posted by & filed under 2013/ 2014 Field Season.

Blue ice field stretching out before my skidoo.

We’ve now had three days searching, finding, and collecting meteorites. We have seven more from this afternoon, and found several others this morning in our “home” moraine. Today was windy, around 15-20 mph, which made it very cold and hard to collect the meteorites. But we persevere because we are all invested in finding as many of these little space gems as we can. Why? Because they are samples of other worlds. Most of what we find are called chondrites, named that because they contain chondrules, which are tine, millimeter-sized spheres of mineral that formed in the very very early solar system, before planets were born. Chondrites are pieces of planets that never formed, containing the stuff of our solar nebula. Some chondrites contain water and organic building blocks, others contain tiny grains left over from ancient supernovae. Chondrites now reside in our asteroid belt before they are delivered to Earth. A few of what we find are achondrites, simply meaning: not a chondrite. Achondrites are from solar system bodies that either were, or still are, planetary – and here I mean they had a crust, a mantle, and a core. Some are from large asteroids that were broken up, so we get iron meteorites from the cores of those bodies. Some are from large asteroids, like Vesta, and some are from the Moon and Mars. It requires detailed laboratory analyses, and sometimes years of research, to determine where an achondrite is from (and many we still don’t know!), so we don’t even attempt to do that in the field. We just collect them all and send them home, where the team at the Johnson Space Center and the Smithsonian institute will classify them. Since we can’t send missions to collect samples from everywhere in the solar system, we rely on meteorites to deliver to solar system to us.

Meteorite in a moraine (glacial deposit of terrestrial rocks). Can you spot it? Hint: it is to the right of the flagpole.

 

John on the big ice at Miller Range

 

-posted by Barbara (editing by rph)

p.s. To all my postcard friends, I have not forgotten you! Postcards are sitting in my tent, we haven’t had a chance to send them to McMurdo.

To Renee, Zheng-Hua, and Scott: happy holidays and thanks for the messages!

To R: R’lyeh!

 

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John poking at something troublesome

Welcome to class, BYU geology and Mr. Rad’s Bonneville 6th grade! Can you find the crevasse in this picture? Why isn’t it a gaping hole? Why do you think we tried not to walk on it anyway? How big is it, and which direction are the stresses oriented? Why and where do crevasses form in ice? Watch for some other pictures of the beautiful hexagonal ice crystals that form inside these crevasses. This is another reason not to fall in – these crystals form at very cold temperatures…

 

Manavi and Morgan with hopper crystals

 

Much love from the Miller Range,

-posted by Jani