Devon Burr, associate professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, recently returned to UT from a 2-month field trip to Antarctica to collect meteorites. Burr was part of an annual expedition of NASA-funded scientists which camps out in Antarctica looking for meteorites or rocks from space. In the Antarctic environment, the extreme winds and ice movement serve to concentrate rocks on the surface of the glaciers and these concentrations can then be searched for meteorites.
Despite some extreme winds, Burr’s team found a very large number of meteorites during their short southern summer expedition: 572 individual specimens, including a record-setting 171 rocks collected in a single day, with a combined mass of close to 100 kg. The meteorites will be cataloged by scientists at the NASA Johnson Space Center and then made available to different universities and research institutions for detailed investigations. These efforts will help provide new insights into formation of the solar system and planetary bodies.
During her Antarctic expedition Burr was featured as the lead author of a paper in Nature on the origin of sand dunes on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. The paper, which appeared on the cover of the January 1 issue of Nature, described a series of unique wind tunnel experiments and numerical modeling studies by Burr and her colleagues, including Josh Emery, assistant professor in EPS, which helped to elucidate how huge dune fields formed on this moon. The dunes were discovered by the Cassini spacecraft a decade ago, but observations made by Cassini suggested that present-day wind velocities weren’t adequate to form the dunes. Burr’s investigations confirmed that very high wind velocities were needed to form the dunes and hypothesized that these extreme winds occur for only a few days twice each Saturn year (about 30 Earth years), when the sun crosses the equator of Titan.