Mental Floss

Hunting Meteorites in Antarctica

Kate Horowitz

File this under “gigs you didn’t know existed”: Every year, NASA drops researchers into the Transantarctic Mountains to look for space rocks. It may sound like a fool’s errand but, as you’ll see in the video above from Great Big Story, it actually makes a lot of sense.

The Antarctic Search for Meteorites program (ANSMET) has been sending scientists into the snowy field since 1976. The searches are fairly low-tech: First, researchers travel to the approximate site of a known meteor strike. Then they board snowmobiles and fan out, searching in a radius from the crash site. Sometimes they go on foot. In this methodical—if surprisingly basic—fashion, ANSMET researchers have recovered more than 21,000 meteorite fragments.

They don’t get to keep them, of course; the fragments are shipped to Johnson Space Center for research. Two chips are removed from each specimen: one for the space center to study, and one for the Smithsonian. Through their fiery fall to earth, these little rocks have expanded our understanding of the entire solar system.

Fun fact: ANSMET is a volunteer gig. Interested? Check out the FAQs on their website.

Header image from YouTube // Great Big Story