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Almost there

Gretchen, Thursday, September 28th, 2006

Today’s been very exciting. We picked up one of the 4-wheel-drives we will be taking into the field – it has a snorkel! This allows it to draw in air to the engine from roof level rather than road level, which helps to keep the engine cool as well as making it easier to cross water.

We then went to an amazing camping store where Caroline and I picked out some Swags - Australian outback single person tents - and other essentials for the field.

We ended up having dinner with some friends of Phil’s at a restaurant on the Swan River with a fantastic view of Perth at night (and during the day, for that matter). What a great view to end the day with!

More soon from the field. We have tomorrow and Saturday still in Perth with a few more things to pick up, but mostly we are ready to go. Just need to pack everything into the 4-wheel-drive and set out for Kalgoorlie.

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Planning, more meteorites – and footie

Caroline, Thursday, September 28th, 2006

Today we went to pick up one of our 4-wheel drive vehicles and then set off to buy a load of gear at a camping and outdoor shop. Our meteorite search is really becoming more of a reality!

After that, we paid a visit to David Vaughan, who is a rock and mineral expert and a great friend of Phil Bland, our colleague from Imperial College in London, and Alex’s. He showed us some AMAZING samples of different rocks and minerals and also some great slices of the Mundrabilla meteorite. We had a great time talking shop and discussing the different rocks and meteorites.

We are heading out to the field on Sunday, so on Friday and Saturday we have a bit more organising and shopping to do, but we do also get some free time to do tourist things.

We’re going to Fremantle on Friday, and then on Saturday I’m going to watch the Australian Football League final – like the FA cup final in England – at Nardi’s house. Everyone in Perth is very excited because the local team, the West Coast Eagles are in the final this year. Lots of the local shops and pubs are flying the team flag and colours (blue and gold) and there’s a great atmosphere building up.

Nardi says that Saturday will be amazing, so I’m looking forward to watching it with a load of her friends – hopefully they will be able to explain the rules and I’ll be cheering the Eagles along with them!

Here we are in Perth

Gretchen, Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

We arrived here on Monday, and met up with Phil Bland at the airport. Phil’s our colleague from Imperial College who’ll be joining us on the search for meteorites. He’d flown direct from London and so was feeling a bit more jet lag that we were. We got to our respective hotels in Perth on that night and settled in for a not-so-restful night’s sleep.

On Tuesday I also met Martin Towner, the other member of our meteorite search. He’s from the Open University in Milton Keynes and he too had arrived on Monday night.

Caroline and I then went to have lunch with Professor Alex Bevan, from the Western Australia Museum where he’s the meteorite curator/researcher. I had corresponded with him when I was a PhD student in Hawaii, so it was very nice to finally meet him in person.

Gretchen with the Mundrabilla meteorite © Gretchen Benedix

Gretchen with the Mundrabilla meteorite © Gretchen Benedix

I returned to the Museum this morning and spent quite a bit of time looking at their meteorite exhibit. One of the most exciting things for me was to be able to see the main mass (the largest piece) of the Mundrabilla iron meteorite. I worked on this meteorite for my PhD – it’s one of the largest meteorites on display in any museum in the world.

Some Australian meteorites

Caroline, Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

Today we went to the Western Australian Museum to visit Professor Alex Bevan. Alex is the Meteorite Curator there, though he used to do my job at the Natural History Museum.

During our visit we discussed the different aspects of our trip and Alex showed us around their meteorite vault. Although the Western Australian Museum has fewer different meteorites than we do at the Natural History Museum (they have about 200, we have about 2000), they do have some amazing samples and I was quite envious!

Caroline with the Mundrabilla meteorite © Caroline Smith

Caroline with the Mundrabilla meteorite © Gretchen Benedix

One of their star specimens in the Mundrabilla meteorite, which is so big that they have to keep it outside. It weighs 12.4 tonnes and you can see how big it is from these pictures that Gretchen and I took. That is the first time I have ever been able to sit on a meteorite!

Australia here I come

Gretchen, Thursday, September 21st, 2006

I’m very excited to be going to the Nullarbor desert. My previous meteorite hunting experience has been in the Antarctic (a frozen desert), but to prepare for this trip, I’ve had to rethink everything I know about desert camping. Conditions in the Antarctic are very different to those we’ll experience in Australia. The biggest difference, of course, is the temperature. For this trip, I won’t need to take along all my woolly winter clothes; just a good sleeping bag and regular hiking boots.

Gretchen on a meteorite trip to the Antarctic

Gretchen on a meteorite trip to the Antarctic.

Most of the gear we need is already in a storage locker in Perth. We’ll gather it all together when we get there, and make sure that nothing needs to be replaced or repaired. After that, we’ll get a day or two of rest before we head out into the desert.

While we’re in Australia, we’re also going to be shooting a video for a Nature Live presentation on meteorite hunting, which will be presented at the Museum in December. I’ve acquired a video camera and have had some preliminary training and advice. Stay tuned for this Nature Live program, which will also be webcast.

Caroline has summed up how busy we’ve both been getting ready for this trip to search for meteorites. As well as all the paperwork we’ve had to fill out, we’ve also had to have medicals to make sure we’re in tip-top shape for working in such a harsh environment. We both passed with flying colours!

Since returning from travels to conferences I’ve also spent much of my time getting a variety of research projects to a point where I can leave them for a few weeks. This included writing an abstract for a meeting in San Francisco in December.

I just can’t wait to get out there and start looking for meteorites.

Getting ready to search for meteorites

Caroline, Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

The Nullarbor Plain in south western, Australia © Phil Bland

The Nullarbor Plain in south western, Australia © Phil Bland

Organising everything for our meteorite search trip to Australia has kept me really busy over the last couple of weeks. We have to make sure that we have everything that we need for our fieldwork in the desert. At some points we’re going to be tens of miles from the nearest other people and there certainly won’t be any local shops to buy anything that we’ve forgotten! I’ve never been anywhere so isolated before, so I think I’m going to find it very strange. I’m a bit nervous - and excited as well. One important job has been sorting out all the paperwork, so that we can collect the samples. Australia classes meteorites as cultural and historical artefacts, and we can’t just go out to collect them and bring them back to the Museum. We have to make sure that we have all the necessary paperwork ready and signed – otherwise we’d be breaking Australian law and Museum rules!

We’re flying out to Australia on Thursday and, after a couple of days in Singapore we will be arriving in Perth on Sunday. When we get to Perth we have to buy more equipment and supplies for our field work and we’ll co-ordinate with our colleagues from the Western Australian Museum in Perth. Then, a week later, we’re off to the desert.