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Researchers from the ULB and the VUB in Antarctica to collect meteorites

22 November 2012 Libre de Bruxelles, Université

From 3 December until 12 February, researchers from the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) will be undertaking a mission to the Nansen blue ice field to the South of the Princess Elisabeth station, in Antarctica, for the purpose of collecting meteorites.

Following the success of previous Belgo-Japanese collaborations, with the collection of over 800 meteorites in the Sør Rondane Mountains region, the Belgian SAMBA team (Search for Antarctic Meteorites, Belgian Approach) 2012-2013 is preparing to undertake a new mission on the Nansen blue ice field, to the South of the Princess Elisabeth station, in Antarctica, between 3 December 2012 and 12 February 2013.
Meteorites provide valuable information on the 4.5 billion years of evolution of the solar system and the planets including, of course, the Earth: studying them helps researchers to better understand the formation and the age of the solar system, the planets, asteroids and comets.

This mission is being carried out as part of the VUB-ULB research programme, run by Philippe Claeys (VUB) and Vinciane Debaille (ULB), with funding from the Belgian Scientific Policy Office (BELSPO) and logistical support provided by the International Polar Foundation (IPF).

The meteorite search team consists of 5 Belgian scientists, led by Vinciane Debaille (ULB, Laboratoire G-Time, Faculty of Science), and 3 Japanese scientists from the National Institute for Polar Research (NIPR) in Tokyo. It is worth noting that the team will have a strong feminine presence, as the Belgian contingent includes 4 women.
The systematic collection of meteorites, using ski doo snowmobiles, will concentrate on the southern and eastern sections of the Nansen blue ice field.

The climatic conditions will be difficult, despite it being the Antarctic Summer. Temperatures will typically be in the region of -20°C, with an average wind speed of 50 km/h giving a perceived temperature of -37°C. These inclement weather conditions will dictate the pace of work, as strong blizzards can sometimes halt all specimen gathering for several days at a time.

During the previous mission in 2010-2011, after searching for 13 days, 4 to 6 hours a day, a team of 5 people had found a total of 218 meteorites, varying in size from 1 to 15 cm. More than the number of specimens, however, it is the types of meteorites found that was exceptional. Thus, among these 218 meteorites, at least two rare types of achondrite (stony meteorites that attest to magmatic activity in the solar system) and a carbonaceous chondrite (the most primitive meteorites having a similar composition to that of the initial material of the solar nebula) were identified.
This year, the researchers hope to find a piece of Mars or the Moon!

In addition to collecting “normal sized” meteorites, the research team will also collect micrometeorites, having a diameter of less than 2 mm. Micrometeorites constitute the largest fraction of the extra-terrestrial material that falls on the Earth, an average of approximately 40,000 tonnes per year.

In 2010, Steven Goderis (VUB) and Vinciane Debaille (ULB) were awarded the InBev-Baillet Latour Antarctica prize to carry out a detailed study these micrometeorites in order to attempt to better understand the formation of the planets and the development and evolution of our solar system. Recent studies have shown that micrometeorites can accumulate in the cracks and interstices of the nunataks in the Frontier Mountains, Queen Maud Land, Antarctic. This year the team will look for similar micrometeriorite deposits within the vicinity of the Princess Elisabeth station.

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