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It was not until 1969 and the chance discovery by a team of Japanese glaciologists of nine meteorite fragments in Antarctica that the idea arose of first prospecting the deserts of ice and then those of heat. Because of its international status as a natural reserve, dedicated to peace and science, the Antarctic continent quickly became a favourite research area for scientists.
Because of the different political groups that lay claim to it and ongoing conflicts, the Sahara, would on the other hand, long be ignored before it became the research site for independent prospecting teams in the 1990s. The Sahara would soon reveal a potential equal to that of the polar glaciers.
Meteorites not only come from the asteroid belt, but from other planets and their satellites. Fragments of these celestial bodies land on earth each day after travelling many hundreds of millions of kilometres. It is estimated that from one to five meteorites drop into the Sahara each day. Plunging into the earth at 300 km/h, they generally terminate their journeys below ground and only re-emerge many decades or centuries later, as the result of erosion.
The Sahara’s highly arid climate is conducive to the preservation of such specimens, and lack of vegetation permits visual prospecting over larger areas. These two key factors make it easier to find meteorites.
In 1923, a biology professor and meteorite fan managed to trigger the interest of the scientific community. The rare extraterrestrial rocks that were discovered by chance at the time were used in repairing wells and wedging open barn doors.
Dr. Harvey H. Nininger travelled from town to town, alternately giving conferences in schools and prospecting the farmlands. After 35 years of research, he collected more than 700 meteorite specimens that can now be seen at the British Museum and at the University of Arizona. Author of numerous publications, articles and studies on meteorites, he helped found the Meteoritical Society, an international organization that now boasts 950 members from all nations. Nininger showed that it was possible to find meteorites as the result of a well-planned search.