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The Hunt For Meteorites Begins In Antarctica

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The Hunt For Meteorites Begins In Antarctica

Research News

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

In Antarctica, there aren't any polar bears, but there are meteorites. As a matter of fact, Antarctica is one of the best places on earth to spot these fallen stars. Each winter, which is of course summer down south, a team of geologists funded by the National Science Foundation, camps out on a glacier in the middle of nowhere, often where no human has ever been. It's kind of like a space voyage, but of course it's cheaper.

And it's the meteorite that's done all the major traveling.

JANI RADEBAUGH: It just an amazing journey to think about, and very precious rocks.

WERTHEIMER: That is Jani Radebaugh, a planetary scientist from Brigham Young University. She joins us by satellite phone from a tent about 500 miles from the South Pole. Each day, she and her team members set out on snowmobiles, scanning the horizon for black specks, samples that will eventually make it to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

RADEBAUGH: As soon as you see that dark, black fusion crust on the outside, you get so excited and you really jump up and start waving our hands.

WERTHEIMER: They jump up and wave their hands because these rocks can offer precious information, like clues to the earlier solar system and whether there was ever life on Mars. These meteorite hunters are a hardy crew. Sleeping on a creaky slab of ice hundreds of feet thick can be a bit unnerving.

RADEBAUGH: The only thing I can hear is the popping of the glacier from underneath me. There you're sitting on a giant, moving body of ice, and sometimes you forget that until usually you hear these pops and groans and it's really magical.

WERTHEIMER: Planetary scientist Jani Radebaugh. He and her crew will spend close to two months out on the ice before heading home. They'll celebrate New Year's Eve under the midnight sun, listening to the popping glacier, perhaps dreaming about popping a cork.

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