China’s assistant foreign minister visits Antarctica

A Chinese delegation led by assistant foreign minister (部长助理) Kong Xuanyou 孔铉佑 visited King George island, one of the South Shetlands some 120 km off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. The visit was organised by the Foreign Ministry, the State Ocean Administration (SOA, 海洋局) and the Communist Party’s Central Foreign Affairs Office (CFOA, 中央外办).

Between Dec 25th and 28th, the delegation visited Korea’s King Sejong Station (세종기지), as well as Russian, Uruguayan and Chilean bases, and of course China’s own Great Wall Station (长城站). After that, they set off for Punta Arenas, Chile, to visit that country’s Antarctic Institute (Instituto Antártico Chileno, INACH). Current cooperation in Antarctic science between China and Chile includes a recent scientific workshop in Punta Arenas and a joint expedition planned for this season.

Meanwhile on the continent, the 32th Antarctic expedition progresses inland, this year divided in two teams. One of them reached Kunlun Station (昆仑站) soon before the end of the year. They were expected to climb Dome A on Dec 31th, where they would plant a flag. Dome A, the highest point on the ice sheet and possibly the coldest place on Earth, has long been a focus of Chinese research. Kunlun station is just a few miles from the Dome. At over 4000 m above sea level, it’s the highest Antarctic station.

China is testing new toys in Antarctica this Southern summer. The country’s first polar fixed-wing aircraft, the Xueying 雪鹰 (‘Snow Eagle’) 601 reached the South Pole in late November. While the plane is American-made (namely a Basler BT-67), China’s first polar all-terrain vehicle, also being used for the first time in Antarctica on the 32th expedition, was developed by Jonyang 詹阳, a joint venture of Singapore’s ST Engineering with the Guizhou city government.

massive eucrite meteorite found by Chinese team in Antarctica

A 1299 gram eucrite meteorite found in February last year by the 30th Chinese Antarctic Research Expedition (南极科学考察) has reached the mainstream news (新华) after Miao Bingkui 缪秉魁 from Guilin University of Technology (桂林理工大学), where the meteorite has been studied, talked about it at an event in Caoyang 曹杨 Middle School in Shanghai. The meteorite, christened GRV13001, was discovered in Grove Mountains, Chinese finds from where have made news in the past.

Less than three pounds might not seem to qualify as ‘massive’ if we’re talking about meteorites in general (a Korean team has recently (video!) found a 36.7 kg meteorite some 300 km from the just opened Jang Bogo base (장보고 기지)), but it is significant for this specific type. The Meteoritical Society‘s Meteoritical Bulletin database registers only maybe a dozen heavier eucrites (out of a total of 310), with the heaviest one at 5.2 kg. The biggest eucrite meteorite from Antarctica is the 3.7 kg Thiel Mountains 07014, found by the Koreans in 2008.

Eucrites are pieces of basaltic rock assumed to come from 4 Vesta in the asteroid belt. This is quite serendipitous, as my previous post discussed how a thick layer of basalt is making it so hard for CNOOC and Ithaca to see if there’s any oil in their patch of the Icelandic Jan Mayen area.

The Chinese name for Vesta, 灶神星 Zàoshénxīng is a bit peculiar. Minor planets with names taken from Classical mythology generally have (informal) Chinese names that translate the name of the original deity, while in non-astronomical context names of Greek and Roman gods are generally transcribed. Thus Vesta, the goddess, is normally 维斯塔 Wéisītǎ, which sounds roughly like ‘Vesta’, while the 灶神 Zàoshén part of the name of the asteroid means ‘hearth spirit’. Now what’s peculiar is that in this case the astronomical ‘spirit’ name is actually a name for the Kitchen God of Chinese folk religion and Taoism, which might or might not have been intentional (those astronomical translations of mythological names generally have no connection with specific Chinese mythical entities).