Hello! I am Katherine Joy. I am part of the University of Manchester Isotope Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry group. More details about my research interests can be found at http://www.seaes.manchester.ac.uk/people/staff/profile/?ea=katherine.joy
Three more meteorites have been classified from the first search season in 2018-2019. If you want to find out more about how we have classified these samples take a look at this blog post.
This time we announce the collection and classification of two samples that are achondrites – meaning they are from parent asteroids that have been differentiated (see here for more details). These two samples are classified as mesosiderites – called OUT 18014 (made up of two separate stones found about 5 m apart from each other) and OUT 18018 (one stone) found ~1.7 km away from the other two samples.
Mesosiderites are an unusual type of meteorite – they are stony-iron, meaning that they are made up of roughly equal parts silicate minerals and iron metal. As of May 2021 there are only 280 meteorites that have been classified as being a mesosiderite, with only 61 of the group having been found in Antarctica. In terms of the Lost Meteorite of Antarctica project goals, finding this sample is very interesting – as it is a stony-iron type of meteorite we would have perhaps expected to find meteorites like this sitting below the ice, rather than on the top ice surface. We are looking into this question as we classify more of the samples we found.
We also report another L-chondrite sample (adding to the list that we previously reported – see below. This one is called OUT 18004 and it looks like this:
These newly classified stones join the first nine chondrite samples we announced early in May 2021: see below for a gallery of the previous meteorites classified from the project.
We have news…. its a big day for the project as we have our first batch of meteorites that have been formally classified by the Meteoritical Society Nomenclature committee and have now been published in the Meteoritical Bulletin Database!
A list of the newly classified meteorites can be found here https://ukantarcticmeteorites.wordpress.com/meteorite-discoveries/ , and you can click on each meteorite name to learn more and see some pictures of the samples. So far all of those classified from our 1st field season come from parent bodies in the asteroid belt: all are undifferentiated ordinary chondritetypes. This means that they come from some from asteroids that represent some of the earliest Solar System building block rocky material that never got big enough to completely melt (hence they are undifferentiated), but they are all are from quite a common type of meteorite group (the ordinary chondrites). So far all the types classified are stony and not metal types – meaning that they are dominantly made up of silicate minerals rather than metal. In case you get lost with all the terms used – an overview of the different types of meteorites can be found at https://ukantarcticmeteorites.wordpress.com/meteorite-classification/
The first classified batch include nine meteorites: two were recovered from from the Hutchison Icefield area (these ones are called HUT), and seven from the Outer Recovery icefield area (these ones are called OUT). The number after the acronym name specifies the particular sample type. If you want to read more about the names of icefields we visited you can read here https://ukantarcticmeteorites.wordpress.com/2021/04/15/new-meteorites-new-names/
This has been the cumulation of a lot of hard work from the field search teams from the 1st 2018-2019 field season (Julie Baum and Katie Joy) and logistics support personnel, the BAS cargo transfer team, the local meteorite lab and classification team – lead by Jane MacArthur with help from Thomas Harvey, Rhian Jones and Katie Joy. A huge thanks to the local analytical lab leads who have kept the instruments we use to image the samples and determine their chemistry (Lewis Hughes and Jon Fellowes), those who support the labs we use to prepare our samples (John Cowpe and Lydia Fawcett) and appreciate key advice from Andrew Smedley, Romain Tartese and Geoff Evatt. Thanks also to all the external help we have had from the Natural History Museum staff in helping these efforts, and to the Meteoritical Society Nomenclature team and Meteorite Bulletin teams for reviewing, approving and sharing the samples’ new names.
You can also read a blog from Jane on the lab curation approach where she will talk about how we go from picking up a sample in the field to working out what type of meteorite it represents.
We also have more samples under review by the nomenclature team so will announce what else we have found in the near future… stay tuned for more meteorites to come…
To be able to give the meteorites we have recovered a formal name we have to go through some procedures…
Dense meteorite stranding zones (areas where lots of meteorites are found) are awarded a name by the Meteoritical Society Nomenclature committee. The meteorites recovered from these areas are then named after these sites – for example the first recognised lunar meteorite Allan Hills (ALHA for short) 81005 is named after the Allan Hills icefield A in Antarctica. Thus, to be given a name we need the place that the meteorites are found to be called something!
Our issue is that the regions we visited in Antarctica had not been formally allocated names by the countries who administrate these areas. So we have gone through two different routes to formally assign names to the field sites we visited so that we can use the names of these geographical features in future research publications and use them to name the meteorites we recovered.
We are happy to announce that our two main field areas have been approved as the Outer Recovery Icefields in Dronning Maud Land by the Norwegian Polar Institute and Hutchison Icefield in Coats Land (British Antarctic Territory ) by the UK Antarctic Place-names Committee. Both of these field sites contain nunataks (mountain tops emerging from the ice), which have also been named after meteorite and meteor scientists (see below for details). The UK site names are included in the UK Antarctic Gazetteer (https://apc.antarctica.ac.uk/) and are available for use on all maps and charts and in all publications. They are also included in the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) Composite Gazetteer of Antarctica (https://data.aad.gov.au/aadc/gaz/scar/ ).
These names have now also been approved by the Meteoritical Society as dense meteorite collection areas and we will be able to call the meteorites either OUT (for those collected at the Outer Recovery Icefields) and HUT for those collected from the Hutchison Icefield.
Outer Recover Icefields Area
Outer Recovery Icefields. named because of its proximity to the Recovery Glacier found adjacent to the northern extent of the area. Link to online Norwegian record.
Halliday Nunatak (81°24’32.97″S, 18° 1’59.88″W): Located in the Outer Recovery Icefields. named after Canadian astronomer Dr Ian Halliday (1928-2018) who was a Canadian astronomer with expertise in meteor (asteroid and comet) delivery rates to the Earth. Link to online Norwegian record
Hutchison Icefield Area
Hutchison Icefield (81°30′ 30″S, 26°10’W): Named after British meteorite scientist Dr Robert Hutchison (1938-2007) who was the Curator of Meteorites at the Natural History Museum, London. He was Head of the Cosmic Mineralogy Research Programme at the NHM, and responsible for the national meteorite collection, one of the most significant meteorite collections in the world. Awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2002; asteroid 5308 named Hutchison by the International Astronomical Union. Named in association with names of pioneering meteoriticists grouped in this area. Link to online SCAR record.
Turner Nunatak (81°27′ 50.42″S, 26°24’48.88″W): Located in the Hutchison Icefield. Named after Professor Grenville Turner FRS (b. 1936) pioneering lunar and meteorite scientist, Emeritus Professor at the University of Manchester. He established the University of Manchester Isotope Cosmochemistry group and his pioneering work on rare gases in meteorites led him to develop the argon–argon dating technique that demonstrated the great age of meteorites and provided a precise chronology of rocks brought back by the Apollo missions. He was one of the few UK scientists to be a Principal Investigator of the Apollo samples during the time of the US manned Moon missions. Link to online SCAR record.
Pillinger Nunatak (81°34’40″S, 26°24’15″W): Located in the Hutchison Icefield. Named after Professor Colin Pillinger FRS (1943-2014), English planetary scientist who was a founding member of the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute at Open University in Milton Keynes, and through his career studied stable isotopes in Apollo Moon samples, martian meteorites and asteroidal meteorites. He was also the Principal Investigator for the British Beagle 2 Mars lander project. Link to online SCAR record.
With many thanks to Dr Adrian Fox (UK Antarctic Place-names Committee), Dr Oddveig Øien Ørvoll of the Norwegian Polar Institute for all of their help with the naming of these regions and advice from Laura Gerrish at the British Antarctic Survey.
We are working hard to classify the meteorites collected in Antarctica and will update you very soon with some news about what we have found.
Tom Harvey, who is an STFC student working on investigating the physical properties of the collection has some new results out which will be presented at the 2021 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference next week. His abstract citation is: T. A. Harvey, J. L. MacArthur , K. H. Joy, R. H. Jones (2021) None-destructive determination of the physical properties of Antarctic meteorites. 52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 2021 (LPI Contrib. No. 2548) https://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2021/pdf/1897.pdf
So, how many new meteorites are landing from space each? How much total mass of them are we gaining? And where about’s on Earth are we most likely to be hit? (especially timely this week given the news story about a 1 km asteroid passing within 4 million km of the Earth! ) This are just some of the questions answered in our latest publication, as published by the journal Geology this week.
In this study, we combined glaciology, mathematics and physics, and sprinkled it all with meteorite collection data, to produce an accturate estimate of these quantities. The headline figure being we estimate over 17,000 falls each year weighing over 50 gr (that is to say, some 17,000 objects fall from space and hit the earth every year, where each component fragment is known as a meteorite, and the summed mass of these meteorites are over 50 gr), and this equates to over 16,000 kg per year landing on the Earth. As for the regions most likely to be impacted, then this, it turns out, appears to be at the equator, where the poles receive about 60% of the equatorial flux.
The first part of the study was to work out the flux of extraterrestrial material in Antarctica. With it having the most documented meteorites on earth, and collected in a very systematic fashion, this meant we were able to harness the data from thousands of samples. However the nature of meteorites in Antarctica means that working out the area they originally landed on is not simple (because the ice is flowing). Combining mathematics with glaciology, we were able to invert for the effective surface area of ice which feeds into Meteorite Stranding Zones (the areas from which they are collected). And since we know flow speeds of the ice, and the number of meteorites collected from them, we were then able to solve for the flux of meteorites falling on a typical square kilometre of ice. Such a figure is useful, but beggars the question: how does that relates to elsewhere on Earth?
Solving for the places most likely to be impacted (the latitudinal variation) was a lovely problem, as the answer was not obvious because competing effects pulled the result to either the poles or the equator. Why the poles? Well, because material orbiting the sun might do so above/below the Earth, yet when in the vicinity of the Earth gravitational attraction, the objects would be deviated towards the polar regions. Conversely, the equatorial regions face head-on into the asteroid belt, and thus more surface area is available for receiving the material. As it turns out (after much old-school orbital mechanics) the equator still dominate for earth, but with the polar region receiving a decent whack – about 60% of the equatorial flux. This computed variation ties in very neatly with observations of the spatial distribution of fireballs across the globe – which was extremely reassuring. With us knowing a good estimate for the flux at the poles, is was then straight forward to use the derived latitudinal variation curve to estimate it for everywhere else.
Now, despite the equator being more likely to be hit, in regards being hit by anything dangerously big, this is not anything to worry about for many many years. This is because such events are extremely rare. And since the whole planet is receiving so many non-dangerous falls each year (17,000+), and each event creating a glorious fireball (much brighter than the shooting stars we see which are formed from dust-sized grains) it really tells us to head outside and look up: there is a good chance of seeing such a fireball event if you give it just a few nights.
The last few days have been somewhat manic to say the least. A final search on the 17th Jan didn’t yield any more meteorites, though we finished off the southern ice field and could put the doos (skidoos) to bed.
A weather window then opened up across the Ronne Ice Shelf meaning that a plane was quickly dispatched from Rothera to come out to our field site at Outer Recovery to collect fieldguide Taff and I. We had a busy day of packing up camp, building and finalising the depots to be left over the Antarctic winter, sorting out all the kit to be brought back to Rothera.
The weather was quite changeable in the day, with at one point snow blowing across the ice surface under 25 knot winds (not ideal for landing a plane when you need to see the skiway contrast). However, the Otter landed at about 10 pm on the 18th Jan with pilot Ian and co-pilot Callam, uplifting us back west, where we had a late night camping out in a mountain tent on Berkner Island. The air was still, but cold with our hair freezing up turning us grey, and the surface was snowy and looking like a million sugar lumps. The next morning on the 19th we departed for Rothera via Fossil Bluff, landing around 7 pm.
Everything was rapidly unloaded from the aircraft and shifted to various parts of the base to be organised — the meteorites to the freezer, the rubbish to the rubbish centre, our science cargo to its storage area be sorted, all the field gear to the Fuchs building (sorry guys for making it a mess). Utterly overwhelming to see so many people after the relative quietness and tranquillity of the field. Finding our rooms, quick shower, making it to the dining hall (just) for the end of service (lamb roast – amazing). I was scheduled on the Dash 7 flight north to Chile for 9 am the next morning on the 20th… so had to run around to organise all of my personal kit separating it from the BAS borrowed field kit and making sure things were washed (sorry to my roommate Sarah who’s bedroom was suddenly inundated with stinking clothes and four bags of stuff tipped out on the floor – I hope the smell of kerosene and field grime is not lingering) and the science cargo to be shipped back north later this month, to be ready to leave. Ahhhhh… finally got a beer at the end of a long day. Then the next morning saying goodbye to people, heading north on the Dash, dinner in Punta, an early night and collection at 4 am today for the next flights back to the UK via Santiago and Sau Paulo.
So yes, its been a bit mad for the last few days and I am missing life of being at Outer Recovery whizzing around the ice spotting meteorites. Antarctica grabs you (well it has certainly has got to me) and doesn’t let you go — hopefully I will get a chance to come back someday to continue the search for more space rocks on the ice.
It has been amazing that in just two field seasons with such small teams we have collected over 100 surface stones for future scientific study by the cosmochemistry community and I am very proud of what we have achieved and look forward very much to finding out what types of meteorites we have collected. Over to the laboratory and curation team now for the next phase of the science story, and hopefully we can continue to source more funding and the support of BAS to get back out to the ice in the next few years to continue our scientific success.
More blogs posts to come when we have results in from the last season’s meteorite haul, and to update everyone on our science research paper outcomes.
Some thanks and shout outs from me at this stage:
The rest of the Sledge Victor Manchester fieldteam — Geoff, Wouter, and Romain who fought a determined fight with the metal detector panels, and found some great meteorites during surface search days. To the story of 118-218-119-119alpha.
Andy Smedley, our Man back in Manchester, who has been receiving our emails from the field to post the blog. [BTW – we named the 3rd blue detector panel sledge Sledge Smedley (mentioned in this previous blog) in his honour at not having him with us in Antarctica]. Whilst Sledge Smedley only had a few days out and about, he lived his life to the full bouncing around and at least still has an intact bottom.
The Twin Otter flight teams (Mark, Ian, Dutch, and Dave) and co-pilots from Rothera and Halley who have come out to visit us this season and help get us and plane fuel across the enormity of the continent. The Rothera field operations managers who work 3-d chess to try and get everyone in the right place on the right day working around the ever changeable weather. The Rothera science coordinator Maz who has been so brilliant in helping out with requests for boxes, getting our cargo together for shipment, and just being completely fab. Everyone at Rothera and Halley who works hard to just get stuff done.
And a special thanks to our wonderful team of field guides Julie, Taff and Rob who have kept us safe, organised camp, provided great chats and moral, and have helped us to find the meteorites we have collected. Thanks guys for putting up with us all for the different parts of the project you have worked on this year and last, its been a privilege to spend time with you.
Although most of the team are now heading north back to the UK, Taff and I are still working hard at our field site and it’s been a productive and busy few days out in the field as we wrap up the season with some surface meteorite searching on two of the ice fields that we visited last year. Revisiting sites is interesting as some of our old tracks are still preserved as imprints in the snow patches like fossilised tracks, indicating past exploration. Both areas are much clearer of fresh snow now than last year (though they still have some thicker patches of older snow), and as there has been less wind it has been pleasant getting out and about and systematically covering the ground to try and find as many samples as possible.
We managed to collect seven samples on the 14th (including a nice big one spotted from about 100 m away), two samples yesterday (rewards for a lot of driving around getting frustrated that we weren’t finding much), and four more today on the 16th (including a nearly completely ice submerged sample), bringing the total number of meteorite stones collected to 82 from this area in total from this year. Several meteorites found over the last few days have been stunning — really nice flight shaped stones preserving evidence of the orientation they travelled through Earth’s atmosphere. A couple others have very fresh fusion crusts suggesting they might be recent falls, and some have hints of pale coloured interiors which look different from the normal chondrite type (primitive asteroid) of samples that we most commonly collect.
We are not sure how many more days we will have in the field as we now await a break in the weather for a plane to travel over from Rothera to collect us — but tea supplies and moral levels are high, and we will keep getting out searching until before our skidoo petrol runs down. Then we will drink some more tea and reflect on a great end to the season.
PS Thanks to our Sledge Victor teammates Romain, Geoff and Wouter, and quizmaster K for the amazing sausage roll song rendition over skeds. We didn’t think you would deliver, but you didn’t fail us. Quite magnificent. Who knew there were so many verses to get through. We hope that your travel back to the UK goes well, and see you back Manchester way. 119 is a lot cleaner without you. 🙂
The remaining team of Taff and Katie are still in the field at Outer Recovery and after two tent days (one because the winds were blowing at 30 knots all day, and yesterday due to bad contrast as it was cloudy) we made it out and about for some more meteorite searching. The high winds of a couple of days ago has blown away all the pretty hoar frost which was covering the area, but also more importantly has shifted the snow off our local ice field meaning that we could get back there to search the final southerly section which had previously been hidden from us under a couple of centimetres of covering.
We headed out in strong cold winds, today was the first day I have had to put on the big yellow down jacket over all the other layers I have been wearing. Pretty much as soon as we started out we were off the mark with a large 15 cm stone, and despite the cold, the day continued to prove fruitful with seven more meteorites collected and bagged*. These included a very nice hand sized complete fusion crusted stone which are pretty uncommon and a tiny pea sized perfect small rounded stone. By the time we headed back to camp the winds had dropped off, making for a pleasant returning home commute.
We are not sure yet of our field retrieval date – but it feels really good to get a few more meteorites collected before we have to return to Rothera.
* Well a small one nearly wasn’t bagged when a gust of wind whipped themeteorite encased in its plastic collection bag away across the ice field — I jumped on the skidoo and whizzed off chasing after it, and upon catching up jumped off the skidoo on a snow patch to make a dive… Well, I missed and fell on my butt (you try running on ice when dressed like the Michelin man), and the bag and stone flew on past me at what I can only assume must be the quickest pace it has experienced since landing on Earth. Back on the skidoo I shot off again, overtook the flying bag again and this time aligned both me and the skidoo to make the interception. Bagged meteorite retrieved and safely stored despite its best attempts to get away. I was feeling pretty cold before this chase episode, but the rapid retrieval and adrenaline shot seemed to have done the trick to warm me up.
It’s been a busy couple of days in the field as we wrap up at the end of the season. As Romain mentioned in his post, two days ago (8th Jan) we started to pack up camp ready for a move back to the skiway input site (about 2 km up the road). We were just settling into a quiet evening when we got a phone call to say that three of the team would be picked up by plane the next day. All hands to stations and we packed up camp that night and relocated so that we could be in place the next day. It was a late one by the time we went to bed, but it was good to know that the main work was out the way. In the morning we got word that the plane (trusty old Victor Bravo Charlie) had left Halley and was winging its way south to us.
Wouter, Geoff, and Romain then headed out with pilot Dave and co-pilot Tom Hulme (who helped out last year as well with our team’s collection from the field — thanks Tom!) towards Rothera, but were diverted on route and ended up last night with our friends at Halley Research Station where they could enjoy a nice warm shower and cooked dinner.
Meanwhile Taff and I have remained in the field ready for the next collection. Taff has been preparing a depot site where we can store the equipment that can’t be uplifted this year. There is a lot of work stacking up of boxes and kit, note taking, rearranging and making sure that everything will not blow away in the Antarctic winter when wind speeds can get up over 60 knots.
This afternoon we took a drive out to visit the southernmost ice field in the area where Julie and I visited last year, finding two meteorites in the process. It was a stunning drive to and from our camp site through flat white terrain, passing by the camp that Wouter, Geoff and Rob had been put into about a month ago. We drove past the remnants of their igloos: they have been dilapidated somewhat in the strong winds and now look like a beautiful ruins. Onwards to the ice field which we discovered was a lot less snow covered than last year, although some parts still had recent snow clinging to the surface. The winds there were much stronger than at camp with a lot of ice blowing along the surface, snaking its way to the west at ~30 knots. Blowy. We searched two of the main parts in a mix of systematic and recon style of search — alas no meteorites were found, but it was an absolute joy to drive around looking.
The journey back to camp was just as stunning — close to the ice field the wind was blowing hard whipping up and blowing snow, but then as we bridged a hill, it dropped off completely leaving a surface of hoar frost with ice crystals that glinted in the sunlight like a million diamonds. We weaved our way through this glittering landscape, kicking up snow crystals, making it look like the air itself was sparkling.
We await news of our uplift — but for now are enjoying being in this amazing landscape.
A busy few days for us in the field. We covered a bit more ground with the metal detection panel array system on the main local ice field , but then suffered a few setbacks when the system powered up and down again in a run. Geoff and Wouter had a day of taking everything apart, assessing what was working and not working, and in progress we discovered that the blue sledge (we had nicknamed Sledge Evatt Junior*) that was carrying our control box and battery had a rather large whole in the bottom, which had been allowing snow to enter the base of the sledge dislodging some of the equipment. Needless to say Junior has been now been retired, and we need a name for the new blue sledge which has taken its place (number 3 doesn’t really have a ring to it).
Whilst all the fixing up has been going on, Romain, Taff and I covered quite a lot of ground surface searching the northern most part of the ice field — finding 7 more meteorite stones throughout the day, including one (a stony type) that was almost completely buried within the ice, only about 10% sticking out of this surface. The clouds lifted and the afternoon was warm and glorious to work in.
Last night we had a good 20 knot wind sweep through the area clearing a lot of the snow off the blue ice surface. We all headed out as a group of five to visit the ice field closest to the Recovery Glacier — a trip of about 10 km from where we are camped. We travelled there linked up on skidoos — forming a caravan of skidoos and sledges trundling across the sastrugi snow heading north for about an hour. BAS fieldguide Julie Baum and I visited this icefield last year (it was the site of my epic skidoo breakdown), and it was good to revisit it. We searched the surface for a while, finding one more meteorite sample (adding to the three we found here last year).
We also scaled the local nunatak — the only rocky outcrop in this area**, to collect some geological samples and to take in the view of the ice fields and how they extend northways abutting the Recovery Glacier itself (the boundary between the two features is impressive, with large ridges, crevasses and ice cliffs). We assume this is a first ascent — so will take this high with pride. The nunatak is formed of a weathered igneous rock (granodiorite), but has lots what we call ‘erratics’ (they are called erratics as they shouldn’t be there geologically speaking) all over the top that have been dropped from the bottom of a glacier which used to run over the rocky peak. Tomorrow we plan to return to the metal detection panel searching and see how sledge number 3 (we really do need a better name) holds up. May his bottom not be broken.
* You might be wondering what/who is Sledge Evatt (i.e., the senior). Well this bold name was given to the blue sledge that was carrying the control equipment for the first sledge unit we set up. Alas, senior had to be retired a few days ago when he also developed a large hole on his underside, passing the responsibility onto junior…
** Recently we requested to name this site Halliday Nunatak after Dr Ian Halliday (1928-2018) who was a Canadian astronomer with expertise in meteor (asteroid and comet) delivery rates to the Earth. His research is related to our core science project of understanding Antarctic meteorite type, delivery rates and glacial transport processes.