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Top 10 — No. 4: Meteor madness hits EDC

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From page A1 | January 07, 2013 |

Amateur meteor chasers, NASA scientists and the media descended on the Coloma/Lotus area after a rare meteor, initially estimated to weigh 70 metric tons, shattered over El Dorado County early in the morning on April 22, 2012.

As the news spread of the meteor and its value, it sparked a gold rush of a different kind as meteor hunters from California and other states descended on the site surrounding Sutter’s Mill looking for pieces that could fetch prices as high as $1,000 to $2,000 a gram. To help in their search, they brought along magnetic rods as well as dogs touted as being able to sniff out meteors.

The first piece of the meteor, later officially named the Sutter’s Mill Meteorite, was found by professional meteorite hunter Robert Ward. His 5.5 gram piece was found at Henningsen-Lotus Park two days after the meteor hit ground. Later that day, meteor astronomer Dr. Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center found a crushed 4 gram sample in the same park.

NASA scientists were particularly interested in the meteor because of its rarity. Jenniskens noted that only one and a half percent of all meteors were of its type. “It’s very primitive, pristine material,” he said. “We think this meteor, as well as comets, brought to earth the common elements found in people’s bodies today. We estimate the meteor is 4.55 billion years old and originated in this solar system.”

Helping the scientists look for fragments were bus loads of volunteers who arrived on weekends to scour the hills. Even an airship was called in on May 3 to help map the debris field.

Many of those finding fragments hoped to sell them while others donated them to science. A 17 gram specimen found on the property of the dee Haas family in Lotus was donated to NASA. In return, NASA offered the family a VIP tour of the Ames Research Center.

According to the Meteoritical Society Website, as of Nov. 27, 90 fragments of the meteor had been recovered with a total mass of 992.5 grams or 35 ounces. As fragments were found and verified, they were recorded on the SETI Website. The largest piece to date was a 205.2 gram specimen found by Jeffrey Grant in May.
In a study published on Dec. 21 in the journal Science, a 70-member international scientific team, including scientists from the SETI Institute, NASA, the University of California, and other institutions, reported their findings on the meteorite which they said was one of the fastests and rarests ever to hit earth.
The scientific team concluded the meteorite was formed 4.5 billion years ago and broke off its parent body about 50,000 years ago. According to the study, they believe the meteorite to be the most pristine sample yet collected of a rare type of carbonaceous chondrite.
The meteorite was estimated to weigh 45 metric tons, be the size of a minivan, and to be traveling at 64,000 mph when it entered earth’s atmosphere. “That’s twice as fast as many other meteor falls,” said Jenniskens, who said it was the fastest meteor impact that’s been recorded. Fortunately most of its mass burned up or shattered when it entered the earth’s atmosphere.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or dhodson@mtdemocrat.net. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.

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