The Meteorite Hunt

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BELIEVED TO BE TOTALLY UNTOUCHED (AND EVEN UNDISCOVERED) BY HUMANS UNTIL THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, THE ICY DESERTS OF THE ANTARCTIC HOLD SOME OF THE MOST SPECTACULAR AND MAGNIFICENT LANDSCAPES ON EARTH.

Hidden at the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere where temperatures can drop to minus 80 degrees centigrade and the strong katabatic winds can reach up to 55 mph, Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest continent on the planet. In winter Antarctica resides in constant darkness, whereas in the summer months the sun refuses to set.

The Transantarctic Mountains dissect the continent and stretch for a massive 3500 kilometres, running straight from the Ross Sea to the Weddell Sea, with few interruptions. It is precisely this mountain range that assists our intrepid explorers to find the black nuggets of space that they have travelled so far to find. In this bright white and icy blue landscape the meteorites, which collect at the base of the Transantarctic Mountains thanks to the ever-moving ice-sheet, can be easily spotted. But it is a long journey, both geographically and logistically, to get out onto the barren ice of the Antarctic. ...

... But it was cold there. I remember thinking that I had no idea that it would be this cold, or this noisy. When there is a storm and the wind is howling, and you are in that tent with everything rattling, tucked inside your sleeping bag to protect against the cold, you suddenly realise that this can be a really horrendous place. I think the cold is the worst part, that and not being able to wash – the little comfort things like not being able to wash your hair. But if that is all you've got to worry about then that's not too bad. I was reading the diaries of Scott and Shackleton, the early British explorers, and Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer, and these guys were traversing terrain with minimal equipment and just the most horrendous food that you can think of, sometimes eating just one biscuit a day. Now we've got our steaks out in the freezer, being smug with our Cadbury's chocolate bars and our gas stoves – it's just a whole other world! ...

Above image by Katherine Joy. Image shows the refuelling of skidoos on the East Antarctic Icesheet.

This feature includes four articles:

The Allure of Meteorites – Words by Lewis Dartnell & photography by Ricky Rhodes.
Stones of Extraordinary Stillness – Words by Ralph Harvey & photography by Ricky Rhodes.
An Antarctic Expedition – Words by Maria Taylor & Katie Joy & Photography by Katie Joy.
The Day the Sky Exploded – Words by Maria Taylor & photography by Jody Daunton.

Illustration on page 69 of Volume Four by Wojtek Klimek.