Did we even have enough fuel? Andi, who was in charge of bookkeeping did a quick calculation of our reserves and declared we were good to go another 242 miles if we distributed our diesel surplus equally between the cars. After deducting the usual safety margin we still had a range of 217 miles per car. This was sufficient to reach the Aouirtefou, search the site another two or three days and return to the next settlement, the 63 mile distant Cap Boujdour, with a reserve of approximately 12 gallons.
It was only a brief powwow. Everybody was eager to search again in a confirmed DCA and so we unanimously decided to go back northeast and to return to the Gart Aouirtefou. Our course to the 56 mile distant basin would take us through rough terrain for the first 12 or so miles. For the area directly ahead the satellite chart showed what looked like coarse alluvial rubble that would require slow and careful driving. After that we would cross another serir plain on which we would be able to speed up again.
I estimated the traverse to take us around two hours, however, I hadn’t taken into account another flat tire and in the end, despite a high speed interval of one hour, we needed three hours until the now familiar outlier mountain that marked the Aouirtefou valley came into sight. Since none on the topographic maps that we possessed had a name for this prominent landmark, we dubbed the inselberg ‘Jebel Nayzak” on this afternoon. Considering the many finds we had made in its neighbourhood Meteorite Mountain deemed us quite appropriate.
With only one hour of good light left, we limited our search to the fringes of the plateau of Zamlat Swid and shortly before dusk we entered the floor of the qued once again. I got up before sunrise to climb up the slope and capture the unreal atmosphere with a fisheye lens. The foggy landscape was drenched in opaque orange. If it wasn’t for the sparse vegetation at the valley floor, this could as well be sunrise over the Valles Marineris I mused. Breakfast was a quick business because with the exception of dry bread and coffee not much was left in our supply box.
This time getting up early paid off. On this morning it was Thomas who scored first. Between the shrubs of a small blow out he found a multi-kilo sized mass that had fragmented due to an extended period of terrestrial weathering. Almost a hundred pieces were now strewn about a 15 x 30 yard mini-strewnfield. Based on the data Rainer subsequently obtained with the SM-30, it first appeared as if the meteorite was paired with the earlier weathered finds. Because there were some deviations in his results he repeated the process with more fragments and found out that the new find rather belonged to yet another fall event. If this was confirmed during the analysis in the lab, the material we had found so far would actually represent three overlapping strewnfields.
While Rainer and Thomas had a blast picking up and cataloguing meteorites under the bright Sahara sun, Andi and I followed in the wake of Marc’s car. Our course was due north, along a virtual line in which we assumed the axis of the fall that had produced the fresh L-type chondrite of which we had found two masses already. Because at present all that we had were two sets of coordinates that unfortunately were quite close to each other, it was possible if not very likely that we were barking up the wrong tree.
For an hour we slowly crossed back and fourth along the estimated axis. On occasion of a brief stop I scanned the horizon with the binoculars and spotted Marc and Sergey occupied with the diligent inspection of an object on the ground. Some moments later I rubbed my eyes in disbelief because I thought I had seen them chink glasses. ‘They are raising glasses, I told Andi without lowering the binocular. ‘Isn’t that what they always do?’, it came back unimpressed. ‘Dude, it is ten in the morning’, I added for consideration. ‘You’re right, perhaps a bit early, so let’s go and find out,’ he suggested, which we did. Half way along we observed how the two got back in their car and resumed their work. Due to their chaotic search pattern it took us a while to intersect their unpredictable course but finally they must have seen us and stopped. By the look of Sergey, who was grinning from ear to ear and which was a rare occurrence for the borne-and-bred Russian who rarely showed apparent emotions, one could tell that they had found another meteorite.
‘Hey guys, still empty handed?’, Marc greeted us cheerfully. ‘Congratulations! How many kilos?’, I replied. ‘Just a fistful, but fresh as the day it dropped’, Marc smiled. Sergey handed us the zip-lock bag that contained an angular yet smoothly rounded mass covered in delicate fusion rind. Indeed, this was doubtlessly the third mass of the pristine L-chondrite we had found the very first day at this site.
Prior to this find, the two coordinates that we had for this fall event were only 250 yards from each other. Too close to derive an axis of the strewnfield with certainty. This time, with 1.36 miles, the distance between the furthest find positions was sufficient to draw a line that would not be too far off the true axis of the meteorite’s distribution area.
Eager to make our own find of the day Andi brought us back on track. Following the new axis, to our great dismay, after just another mile and a half, we ran into the same field of black silcrete debris that we had encountered when searching the area for the first time. On consulting the satellite chart we were literally shattered to see that it stretched over a vast area and included all of the northern part of the potential strewnfield.