They are participants in the Antarctic Search for Meteorites program, or ANSMET for short. Since 1976, ANSMET researchers have been recovering thousands of meteorite specimens from the East Antarctic ice sheet. ANSMET is funded by the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation.
According to the ANSMET website, the specimens are currently the only reliable, continuous source of new, nonmicroscopic extraterrestrial material. Given that there are no active planetary sample-return missions coming or going at the moment, the retrieval of meteorites is the cheapest and only guaranteed way to recover new things from worlds beyond the Earth. …
… Meteorites have been found in Antarctica since the continent was first explored. The first one was found in 1912, by a member of an expedition from Australia.
So what happens when a team member spots a meteorite?
The collection process starts by using the meteorite hunter’s toolkit, a relatively simple collection of gear: sterile bags to contain the rocks, numbered tags to label them, tape to close and seal the bags, a notebook to take down any distinguishing features of the sample, and scissors to cut the tape or the bags open.
Great care is taken not to touch the meteorite or even breathe on it. Above all, a dripping nose hovering over a specimen is a no-no!
The meteorite is placed in a sterile bag as quickly as possible, usually by putting the bag over it. The meteorite is measured and sometimes photographed, and its size and color and possible classification are noted.
A small aluminum tag with an ID number is also inserted into the bag, and the whole thing is then sealed up tight.
At the end of a good day, a hunter’s backpack can be full of these meteorite samples.