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Top 10 stories of 2013: 10. Sutter’s Mill Meteor a continued hit in 2013

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From page A1 | January 03, 2014 |

Editor’s note — The top 10 stories of 2013 as selected by the editing staff begin publication today with the bottom five stories and conclude Monday with the top five.

The Sutter’s Mill Meteor (SMM) that fell in the Coloma-Lotus Area on April 22, 2012 continued to be a topic of fascination to local residents in 2013.

Described as a Carbonaceous Chondrite Regolith Breccia, the Sutter’s Mill Meteorite was a very rare type, making up less than 3 percent of all known meteorites.

It was also the fastest ever entry of an asteroid from which something was recovered, traveling at 64,000 miles per hour before breaking up.

Because of its value — scientific and otherwise, it led to something of a gold rush as meteor hunters, scientists and others descended on the area to scour it for fragments that some claimed were worth more than gold.

Feeding a desire of El Dorado County residents to learn more about this extraordinary visitor from outer space, in June the Gold Trail Grange sponsored a presentation in Coloma by Dr. Peter Jenniskens, who is a senior research scientist at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute and the NASA Ames Research Center.

Jenniskens was the scientist who coordinated the search for fragments from the SMM and was also the lead author on a research paper published in the Dec. 21, 2012 issue of Science Magazine that described what had been learned about the meteor.

With a presentation that sprinkled humor in with the science of meteor hunting, Jenniskens described to an audience of almost 140 people how the meteor was located, the mapping of the debris field, and what had been learned from the samples collected.

He noted that while only 2 pounds worth of material had been recovered, much of it was in pristine condition and had yielded a great deal of valuable information about its complex chemical makeup along with its probable origin. One of the most fascinating findings was the presence of amino acids.

Jenniskens went on to describe his own excitement in finding samples of the meteor as he encouraged people to continue looking for fragments, saying that only 0.003 percent of the meteor’s mass had been recovered to date.

Jenniskens, who chases major meteor falls all over the planet, also detailed traveling to Chelyabinsk, Russia, where a 20-meteor-sized asteroid exploded over the city in February 2013, causing injuries to 1,000 people and blowing out glass windows from the shock wave.

Showing off pieces of glass collected from the explosion, Jenniskens described a video project he was currently engaged in to monitor how many meteor showers there are each night, adding that they had documented 95, but suspected there could be as many as 400 a night.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or dhodson@mtdemocrat.net. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.

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