SAMBA (Search for Antarctic Meteorites, Belgian Approach)

During the winter of 2009-2010, a Japanese-Belgian expedition travelled to the Sør Rondane mountains in Antarctica (where the Belgian Antarctic Princess Elisabeth research station is positioned) to search for meteorites that can answer some of the crucial questions we have on our Solar System and the formation of the planets. In total, 635 meteorite fragments were found in the blue ice of the Balchenfjella area, the largest piece weighing more than 5 kg! In 2010-2011, we went back; this time to the more elevated (~3000 m altitude) Nansen Icefield, where we found another 218 meteorites. More recently, during the winter of 2012-2013 our team went back to Nansen to cover the southern and eastern parts of the blue ice field, bringing back 424 meteorite fragments! The 2012-2013 mission was especially successful, bringing back several large (up to 18 kg!) and infrequently recovered fragments. Read up on their adventures here!

The project is an initiative of the Dept. of Geology (led by Dr. Ph. Claeys) of the Earth System Science research group of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in collaboration with Prof. Dr. N. Mattielli and Dr. V. Debaille of the Isotopes: Pétrologie & Environnement Département des Sciences de la Terre et de l'Environnement of the ULB and the Japanese Institute of Polar Research and is supported by the Belgian Science Policy (BELSPO) and the International Polar Foundation (IPF). Once these extraterrestrial rocks have been studied, the most beautiful meteorite fragments will be exhibited to the public.

MICROMETA (MicroMeteorites from Antarctica)

Of all the material reaching Earth from space (30,000 to 40,000 metric ton/year), only a small part will survive the heating and shock experienced upon entry in the atmosphere. The large majority of this material rains on Earth in the form of rounded extraterrestrial particles less than 2 mm in size, known as micrometeorites. Although meteorites in general provide us with essential information on the origin and evolution of the planets and the Solar System, micrometeorites that originate from the most primitive objects still remaining in the Solar System raise an even higher scientific interest. However, the difficulties in collecting and analyzing micrometeorites hampered routine research so far. Two developments have changed this situation in recent years. The analytical possibilities to minimize the required amount of material for isotope analyses have significantly improved. Powerful isotope tracers (such as for example 53Mn-53Cr, 146Sm-142Nd, and 182Hf-182W) can shed light on the terrestrial planets’ accretion rate, on the timing of core formation and the evolution of the mantle and crust, while stable isotopes of lighter elements (O, Mg, Si, Fe, Cu, Zn) can provide important information on the source of the micrometeorites and on the processes they underwent in the Solar System. Secondly, only a few years ago huge quantities of very well preserved micrometeorites of various sizes and types were recovered in cracks of eroded granitic nunataks in the Frontier Mountains of Victoria Land in Antarctica, where they most likely accumulated for close to 1 million year. In these collections, the largest size fraction of more than 1 mm is very well represented and makes it possible for the very first time to carry out high precision isotope measurements. Combining these research developments and the existing Belgian cosmochemical capabilities with the unique location of the PE station in an area expected to yield important accumulations of micrometeorites in cracks, crevices, joints or fractures of the neighboring lithologies, the emerging field of micrometeorites is a complementary addition to the existing meteorite program, and will give to Belgium a prominent role in the meteoritics and planetary science field, with collaborations worldwide.

In 2010, the Antarctica InBev-Baillet Latour Fellowship Award was awarded to Steven in the framework of this project to look in-depth at micrometeorites to try to gain a better insight into planet formation and the evolution and development of our Solar System. Taking the form of a research grant of the sum of 150,000 euro, the Antarctica InBev-Baillet Latour Fellowship Award is awarded every two years to a project carried out as part of a doctorate or postdoctorate at a Belgian university. More info can be found here.


More pictures can be found here.