An international team led by Vinciane Debaille (FNRS-ULB) and composed of Maria Schönbächler (ETH-Zurich), Maria Valdes (Field Museum of Natural History-U. Chicago) and Ryoga Maeda (VUB-ULB), and guided by Manu Poudelet (International Polar Guide Association) has just returned from a reconnaissance mission in Antarctica to search for new meteorite accumulation areas around the Belgian Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Station. Thanks to funding from the Federal Science Policy (Belspo), three VUB-ULB-NIPR (Japan) missions were successful in the Nansen Blue Ice Field, with more than 600 meteorites discovered.
Now the international team has taken on the challenge of finding new meteorite accumulation areas. Using satellite images and GPS coordinates, the team went to discover the potential of several areas of interest, identified thanks to the work of Veronica Tollenaar, a thesis student in glaciology at the ULB.
"However, we also had to deal with the fact that the reality on the ground is much more difficult than the beauty of satellite images," continues the researcher.
The team was able to benefit from the experience of Alain Hubert who, of course, knows the region very well, and was able to open roads to avoid dangerous areas, sometimes at the cost of large detours, crevasses being a dangerous reality. The team camped in -10°C weather, travelled tens of kilometers in the sastrugis, snow dunes indurated by the wind, and lived to the sound of the snowmobiles. Mission accomplished - YES! The Nils Larsen blue ice zone, some 60 kilometers from the resort, has been recognized as an accumulation zone worthy of revisiting. But above all, the team returned with a very nice surprise in its luggage: a 7.6 kg meteorite! It is a meteorite coming from the asteroid belt which ended its course in the Antarctic blue ice, waiting several tens of thousands of years to be discovered.
Next step - Return to Brussels for a proper thawing of the meteorites collected under controlled conditions in the laboratory at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, before being analyzed for their chemical composition and becoming available to the scientific community. And then, of course, to plan the next expedition...