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One COOL Field Trip

One COOL Field Trip

Welzenbach with meteorite

Welzenbach poses with one of the 924 meteorites that were collected during last year’s expedition.

Photo by: Carlton Allen

Braving wind chills as low as –57° C (-70° F), Linda Welzenbach—the Museum’s meteorite collection manager—camped six weeks on the ice in pursuit of meteorites.

The Antarctic Meteorite Program is a joint venture of the Smithsonian, the National Science Foundation, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Since 1976, about 12,000 meteorites from the Moon, Mars, and asteroids have been retrieved, 9,000 of which now reside in the Smithsonian’s collection.

Welzenbach was the only Smithsonian employee on the 2002/2003 expedition. She helped the team distinguish meteorites from earth rocks.

Chondrite GRO 95598

GRO 95598

This chondrite, a common type of meteorite containing the Solar System’s early grains, weighs 1,260 grams (2.7 lbs). The study of these ancient rocks reveals the history of the Solar System.

Iron meteorite DRPA 78005

DRPA 78005

One of the first iron meteorites found in Antarctica, this specimen has been sliced, polished, and etched to reveal the crystalline structure.


Meteorite field with flags

Photo by: Linda Welzenbach

Why Antarctica?
It’s easier to find small meteorites here, because they stand out against the ice and accumulate in specific areas. More meteorites have been collected during the last 26 years in Antarctica than in the previous 500 years worldwide.

How do they collect an Antarctic meteorite?
Each meteorite’s location is recorded with a global positioning system. It is then measured, assigned a number, briefly described in a field notebook, and photographed. It is shipped frozen to NASA’s Johnson Space Center for processing.

Small iron meteorite

Small iron meteorites

Iron meteorites once were part of the cores of large asteroids. These originated from the same meteorite shower and were collected in 2000 in the Meteorite Hills area. Antarctica’s cold desert preserves small irons, which would rust in other Earth environments.


Welzenbach in collection area

Antarctic meteorites are stored in special cabinets at the Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland, to prevent rusting or contamination from pollutants. When working in the collection, Welzenbach wears a protective suit.

Photo by: Chip Clark


See more Antarctic meteorites in the Earth, Moon, and Meteorites Gallery of the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals.

To learn more about Science and Collections visit the following website:
Department of Mineral Sciences

Past Science News exhibits


"Science in the News" features Natural History issues in the news media and interesting objects from the Museum's collections. We will frequently introduce new issues that come from our research, collections, exhibits, and projects.