Ural Federal University: The Ural Federal University Meteorite Expedition Search Team Is Preparing to Leave for Antarctica

On the morning of November 13, a search team of the Ural Federal University’s meteorite expedition departed for Antarctica as part of the 67th Russian Antarctic Expedition, organized by the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute. The journey to the ice continent began in Cape Town.

“Before departing for Antarctica, the team met in Cape Town, where participants mastered a meaningful online educational program. Leading meteorologists from Russia, USA and Finland lectured them about solid matter formation in the solar system, diversity of meteorites, structure of the Moon and peculiarities of lunar meteorites, behavior of celestial bodies in the Earth atmosphere, formation of impact craters, Tunguska phenomenon and so on,” comments Victor Grokhovsky, UrFU professor and head of UrFU meteorite expedition.

The team, led by university researcher and experienced mountaineer Aleksandr Pastukhovich, is half of the participants in the previous, the first Antarctic meteorite expedition in modern Russian history, organized by UrFU. It took place in December 2015-January 2016.

“Before us, neither in the Soviet nor in the Russian period, no scientific meteorite expedition has worked in Antarctica autonomously – only on the territory of the stations or as part of a sledge-caterpillar train. Not the most convenient and economical way of scientific research. So for the first time, and successfully, we conducted research in an autonomous tent camp”, says Aleksandr Pastukhovich.

Along with him for the second time professional mountain guides, “Snow Bars” Vitaly Lazo and Ruslan Kolunin went to Antarctica. For the first time, Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who returned from space in April this year after six months of work on the ISS, as well as professor of Kazan Federal University Danis Nurgaliev and the main, in addition to UrFU and KFU, investor of the expedition Andrey Nazarov will step on the ice of Antarctica.

“Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergey Kud-Sverchkov is a very broadminded person, an experienced speleologist and mountaineer, which is especially useful in an Antarctic expedition. In addition, such meteorite expeditions can become a platform for training cosmonauts, learning the peculiarities of search and research of extraterrestrial matter”, adds Aleksandr Pastukhovich.

From the Russian Antarctic station Novolazarevskaya search detachment will go 180 km south, to the mountain massif of the Voltat (Queen Maud Land, about 2000 m above sea level).

“The Antarctic ice shell, which has been accumulating space matter for millions of years, is in constant motion, creeping up from the ice domes onto the mountain ranges. As a result of the sun, wind, and temperature variations, the ice breaks down, exposing its treasures in the mountainous areas. Our main task is to identify areas of meteoritic accumulation near the mountains in areas of so-called blue ice. Fragments of meteoritic matter are clearly visible on the surface of Arctic ice”, explains Pastukhovich.

For the expedition to Antarctica the necessary equipment and gear weighing about a ton was delivered. Researchers have increased fieldwork time compared to the first expedition in 2015, using a snowmobile to cover a larger search area. If the weather is good, this will allow them to discover more samples for research.

“The condition of meteorites found in Antarctica is different from the quality of samples found in hot deserts. Antarctica is characterized by unique conditions – stability of temperatures, absence of destructive effects of moisture. Therefore, here, in a natural “refrigerator”, without interacting with either oxygen or water, meteorites are preserved in their original form for a long time and can provide the most accurate understanding of the origin and development of the Universe and the Solar System, of the processes that took place 4.5 billion years ago and earlier,” describes Aleksandr Pastukhovich.

In addition, Pastukhovich emphasizes, after the fall of the Chelyabinsk meteorite in 2013, which was first discovered and studied by the UrFU meteorite expedition led by Professor Victor Grokhovsky, the issue of global asteroid security became acute. In the event of an asteroidal threat, knowledge of the substance constituting such celestial bodies will allow us to promptly determine how to most effectively eliminate this danger.

Another task of the UrFU meteorite expedition search team is to take samples of “blue ice” from different areas and depths of the Antarctic glacier in the scientific interests of the cryoastrobiology laboratory of the St. Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics.

“In the laboratory, blocks of ice will be heated, melted water will be filtered, and space dust particles may be found in the dry residue. It is assumed that as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere, microscopic dust does not experience thermal stresses and therefore retains everything it carries from space on its surface. Thus, cosmic dust is of particular interest for astrobiologists searching for traces of space life”, explains Aleksander Pastukhovich.

The work of the meteorite expedition team of the Ural Federal University as a part of the 67th Russian Antarctic Expedition will last till November 25.

AARI is the state operator for organization and implementation of activities in the Antarctic in the interests of the Russian Federation. Staff members of the Russian Antarctic Expedition monitor changes in natural environment at five year-round stations: Novolazarevskaya, Bellingshausen, Mirny, Progress and Vostok. In the summer period the work is also carried out at the seasonal field bases Molodezhnaya, Druzhnaya-4, Oasis Bunger, Russkaya and Leningradskaya. Russian Antarctic Expedition is the successor of the Soviet Antarctic Expedition, which worked since 1956.

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