Marienville Man Hunts for Meteors in Antarctica for NASA ANSMET Program
MARIENVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – Paul Scholar’s mother tells the story that when her son was young and they stopped at an Indian Trading Post, he was not like most kids who wanted a toy. Paul would always ask for a rock.
He’s still looking for rocks, but as a graduate student at Case Western University, he recently spent a 60-day trip to Antarctica as part of Antarctic Search for Meteorites program (ANSMET).
ANSMET recovers meteorite specimens from Antarctica. Since 1976, the group has recovered more than 22,000 specimens from meteorite stranding surfaces along the Transantarctic Mountains.
“You have a big accumulation of meteorites,” said Scholar. “They’re coming down here as much as they are somewhere like Antarctica, but when they fall there, they hit the ice and stay on the ice. It’s stable, and they don’t weather. Also, anything that hits the ice there just accumulates, but here, they sink into the ground and weather away.”
This was the first year Scholar was part of the ANSMET team, and he said the weather wasn’t as cold as he thought it might be.
“The wind was very strong, and it was probably the biggest thing,” scholar continued. “Temperature-wise, I think the lowest we saw was negative 10. I was gone a total of 60 days, but I spent 44 of those days in a tent in the mountains. All of the United States Antarctica programs have an office down there in New Zealand at Christ Church, and that’s where they supply you with gear and things like that. You stop there and pick up your gear there and get on the plane and head down to the ice.”
What can meteorites tell us?
“They could tell us a lot about the formation of the solar system and of the earth. Some of them are actually Lunar or Mars meteorites. They can tell us a little about the chemistry of Mars or the chemistry of the moon, and differentiation processes.
“They have to be picked up with stainless steel tongs put in a bag and you can’t touch any of them so there is no contamination. They are locked up in a large cooler and kept frozen and are shipped back to Johnson Space Center. They should be getting there pretty soon.”
The meteors are documented at the Johnson Space Center, and if someone from the science community wants to research on them, they can check them out.
Scholar values his undergraduate years at Clarion where he also met his wife, Rachel, a geology major.
“We had some really good professors that were just retiring,” Scholar said. “Dr. Frank Vento has really done a lot for me, and he was retiring the year I graduated. He was also doing some work for Mercyhurst and helped get me in there and then into grad school. In fact, I worked with him the other day where we went out and did some ground testing, looking for old cabins buried on a property.”
The couple hasn’t decided where they will be moving after his graduation from Case Western, but it may be in the state of New York, around the Albany area.
“They have a lot of rock and mineral collectors there,” explained Scholar.
ANSMET has been called “the poor person’s space mission” because they recover materials from other solar system bodies at a fraction of the cost required by other methods. The cost of ANSMET fieldwork over its entire history still amounts to much less than one percent of a typical sample return mission.
ANSMET is a US-led field-based science project that assures specimens are a reliable, continuous source of new, non-microscopic extraterrestrial material and support thousands of scientists from around the globe as they seek essential “ground-truth” concerning the materials that make up the asteroids, planets and other bodies of our solar system.
The study of ANSMET meteorites has greatly extended our knowledge of the materials and conditions in the primeval nebula from which our solar system was born, revealed the complex and exotic geologic nature of asteroids, and proved, against the conventional wisdom, that some specimens represent planetary materials, delivered to us from the Moon and Mars, free of charge.
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