November 26, 2001 at 5:26 PM EST - Updated July 12 at 3:10 AM
CLEVELAND (AP) - It's not difficult for Ralph Harvey to explain why he takes an annual meteorite-seeking expedition to Antarctica.
"If you want to find things that fall from the sky, lay out a big white sheet," said Harvey, a Case Western Reserve planetary geologist.
Harvey said that while meteorites are no more likely to fall at the Earth's poles than its equator, the polar ice cap where anything that's not snow or ice stands out makes Antarctica a good place to find them.
This will be the 25th year in the field for the Antarctic Search for Meteorites, funded by the National Science Foundation.
Harvey, who has been leading a team since 1996, estimates that the programs has collected about 11,400 pieces of moon, Mars or asteroids that have plunged to Earth.
Harvey expects the entries to begin on Friday, when the expedition is scheduled to arrive in Antarctica. The team will spend about two months in the field.
While some of the meteorites are pea-sized, the team has in past found an extraterrestrial rock that weighed close to 1,000 pounds.
"It's kind of like a big Easter-egg hunt," said Harvey, whose project is funded through 2006.
Harvey said the team travels mainly by snowmobiles and lives in double-walled tents. Temperatures are usually a few degrees above zero Fahrenheit. He said the temperature spikes to 20 degrees, but the sun shines 24 hours a day.
Samples collected by the field team are turned over to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, where they are catalogued and made available to researchers across the country.
Harvey said NASA gets about 500 requests for specimens each year.
Meteorites, he said, are "kind of a poor person's space probe. Nature is delivering us specimens that we couldn't get anywhere else."
(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)