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NASA to Search Again for Antarctic Meteorites

Nov 17, 2016 04:46 AM EST
Smithsonian Institute Showcases Items From Its Collection Prior To House Hearing
NASA and two institutions have renewed their search for Antarctic meteorites to learn more about the earliest building blocks of the solar system and Earth’s moon and neighboring planets.
(Photo : Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

NASA will renew its search for Antarctic meteorites in the hopes of discovering more about the primitive building blocks of the solar system and know more about the Moon and Mars.

The agency will be working together with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Smithsonian Institution (SI) in collecting and curating Antarctic meteorites, forming a partnership called ANSMET or the Antarctic Search for Meteorites Program.

NASA and the two institutions recently signed an agreement to advance the program for an additional 10 years, which will replace an earlier agreement signed in 1980, NASA said in a statement.

"Antarctic meteorites are posing new questions about the formation and early history of our solar system," Tim McCoy, Smithsonian meteorite scientist, said in the same statement. "Some of these questions are spurring new exploration of the solar system by NASA missions." According to scientists, asteroids that hit the Earth during its early days and the other bodies in the solar system may have played a significant role in the delivery of volatiles (water) and organic molecules (amino acids) to planetary bodies, which could have been important in the development of life.

The U.S. has been searching for meteorites in Antarctica since 1976, and the ANSMET program has collected over 23,000 specimens. Among the first meteorites discovered were those that came from the Moon and Mars, and the ALH 84001 Martian meteorite.

When they fall to Earth from space, meteorites remain intact, allowing scientists to collect them on the ground. Antarctica provides a unique environment for searching for meteorites because the cold desert climate preserves meteorites for long periods of time. In searching for meteorites, ANSMET deploys small field parties during the Antarctic summer (winter in the northern hemisphere). The ANSMET teams are flown to remote areas in the Antarctic, where they live in tents and search for meteorites using snowmobiles.

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