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Catch a falling star

A team of scientists has begun looking for a giant meteorite that landed in Greenland last December. You can follow their progress as they update their diary from the impact zone.

Eyewitness disagrees about impact zone


July 28, 1998

From DR Online

Fisherman Jacob M┐ller disagrees with scientists in Copenhagen, who assessed the impact zone of the giant meteorite in southwest Greenland.

On December 9, 1997, at 5 a.m. local time, M┐ller saw from his bedroom window more than a dozen great fireballs drop behind the mountains to the east of his native village, Qeqertarsuat-siaat.

Today he hovered over his house in a helicopter, his wife waving below, as he indicated the direction in which he saw the fireballs disappear. He is familiar with the wild landscape from 40 years of hunting, and as the helicopter passed the southern shore of the inlet of Bj┐rnesund, he was sure - some of the fireballs must have dropped here, apprxiamately 100 kilometers more westerly than assessed by the scientists.

The helicopter continued to the base camp of the meteorite expedition, where expedition leader Jan Alquist had food for thought -- the assessment of the skilled hunter and fisherman versus the scientists in Copenhagen.

M┐ller claims the last explosion as the meteorite was braked by the atmosphere could have stopped it in its tracks, making the fragments drop to the ground like bags of cement. This idea is not foreign to the scientists, but has been discarded as too theoretical. But this is a highly unusual meteorite fall. The extreme velocity of the bolide as it entered the atmosphere should, according to theory, have made it evaporate into atoms. But it did not, because then Jacob M┐ller would not have seen what he saw.

So maybe the expedition is looking in the wrong place if it wants to find anything but dust.

Looking for a needle in a haystack


July 27, 1998

By Jan Haugaard

As search parties roam the 50 square kilometer impact zone, scientists back at base camp are examining snow samples for microscopic particles, which might give more exact clues as to the location of bigger fragments.

The work of the search parties is harassed by constant drizzle, making prolonged stays in the field impossible. Helicopter activity is impaired by lack of special skis and floats needed to touch down safely on the glaciers, which by now form a vast watershed changing by the hour, revealing crevasses in areas thought to be solid and safe.

Even the Greenlanders are surprised by the amount of snow still covering the impact zone. Normally at this time of year the ice should be exposed, leaving remnants of the meteorite visible. Helicopter assistance is badly needed to form an overview of accessible areas, but the weather forecast is bleak, promising fog, rain and moderate southeasterly wind.

So the search parties trudge on, knee deep in sludge to cover their assigned quadrants, but pro-gress is slow, a maximum of 1 kilometer per hour, as they constantly have to probe the wet snow for hidden crevasses.

Back at base camp, it is a constant struggle to dig trenches to prevent water from inundating the tents. Luckily, supplies are plenty, including fuel for stoking the camp stoves which by now are used mainly for drying clothes and equipment.

In the heart of the impact zone

July 24, 1998


By Jan Haugaard

Six yellow dome tents adorn the glacier just north of the Kangilla Nunataks, in the heart of the impact zone of the giant meteorite, which fell over southern Greenland on December 9 of last year.

A southeasterly breeze is carrying a slight drizzle, which is pearling off the Gore-Tex of the polargear, as the men are working hard to arrange the basecamp. Clouds in the color of lead are drifting down from the high inland ice, which is just a white wall to the east, with no visible horizon. The surface of the glacier is like sorbet, and you only have to dig down a few inches before it becomes cool, clear water running down towards the west where it will converge into wild turrents reaching for the Davis Strait.

There is no trace of the violent event that happened on that cold winter's night over six months ago, as the meteorite came thundering down through the heavens. But then again, this place seems to be able to withstand a nuclear blast without any damage; the remnants of the meteorite could be hiding anywhere.

It is a vast undertaking that lies ahead. The impact zone covers 50 square kilometres, and although Greenlandair is providing ample helicopter back-up, the actual spotting of what is left of the meteorite will have to be done on foot.

Home away from home

July 23, 1998


By dawn today, the expedition searching for the giant meteorite had unloaded its equipment at the Ivigtut Royal Danish Navy base in southwest Greenland. Thursday, on arrival at the former US Air Force Base at Narsasuaq, the 5 Danish crew were joined by 2 Greenlanders, geologist Hans Henrik Olsen and Hans Henrik Berthelsen, a fisherman.

A native of the village Qeqertarsuatsiaat, just 40 miles from the impact zone, Berthelsen has trekked extensively on the glaciers, adding expert knowledge of terrain and weather conditions to the expedition.

This afternoon, an advance party will reach the impact zone for an appropriate campsite, and tonight, weather permitting, it will be the first lullaby on the ice.

Related stories:
  • Search for giant meteorite starts next week - July 16, 1998
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