April 26th, 2012
07:19 AM ET

Rush on to find fragments of California meteor

There's a new rush on in California's gold rush country. This time, they're prospecting for meteorites.

A minivan-sized meteor blew up over northern California on Sunday morning, and now everyone from NASA scientists to schoolkids is looking for fragments of the fireball  called meteorites once they hit the ground  in the Sierra Nevada towns of Coloma and Lotus.

“People used to pull the gold out of the ground. Now, things fall out of the sky,” NASA research astrophysicist Scott Sandford told CNN affiliate KTXL in Sacramento. “Lucky place, I guess.”

The site where the first meteorites were found Wednesday is just a mile from where gold was first found at Sutter's Mill in Coloma in 1848, CNN affiliate KXTV reported.

Meteorite hunter Robert Ward rushed from his home in Prescott, Arizona, to northern California after hearing of the explosion on Sunday and found fragments in a park. He told CNN affiliate KOVR that these fragments are the first of their kind to fall to Earth since the 1960s.

And they are of extreme importance to scientists, he said.

"There's particles inside this meteorite that predate our sun," Ward said.

"It contains complex amino acids. It contains organic molecules. This thing is just a treasure trove of data for scientists," Ward told KXTV.

NASA scientist Peter Jenniskens found fragments in the park's parking lot, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report. The fragment had been split into smaller pieces after it was run over by a vehicle, he told the Chronicle.

"We need to find more fragments so we can begin to understand how it broke apart and what was inside it," the Chronicle quoted Jenniskens as saying.

"A primitive type of meteorite can tell us an awful lot about the early stages of our solar system, so it is scientific gold in that respect," Sandford told KXTV.

And now that matter from the early universe is scattered over the California landscape.

Local elementary school students Alvin Wolf and Dustin Bunge were among those combing Henningsen Lotus Park on Wednesday.

"We'd probably sell it. Keep it in a bag and if NASA wanted to do stuff on it," they told KXTV.

NASA scientists are organizing a meteorite search for Saturday in Henningsen Lotus Park, KXTL reports.

In the meantime, Ward and others will keep searching.

"There's pieces out there in people's backyards," Ward said. "They just have to get out there and find them."

"It's like a giant easter egg hunt for adults," Randy Freeman of Garden Valley, California, told KXTV.

Meteor was size of a minivan

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Filed under: California • Space • U.S.
soundoff (237 Responses)
  1. wildone

    Wait 'till one the size of New Jersey hits. We'll be the next dinosaurs.

    April 26, 2012 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Kristen

      A blast of that kind has already hit the earth, and soon we'll be like the dinosaurs - the "meteor" is called "humanity."

      April 26, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Duke

      Actually one the size of a football stadium will do the trick. One the size of NJ may damage the planet itself depending on the speed and angle of impact; certainly it could alter the orbit.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  2. yo

    Meteorites contain chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects...just sayin'

    April 26, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • plusone

      LOL

      April 26, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      Everything is known to the state of California to cause cancer.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Parson Brown

      Your post is absolutely the silliest one on CNN today...just sayin'... lol!

      April 26, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      You are quite a moron. The state of california has no proof for that. Meteorites are made up of the same building blocks as earth and do not cause any more birth defects than the same materials here on Earth would.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  3. Peter

    In the sky of life
    In certain hotspots where these meteors and stars have a tendency to fall
    And legend has it
    that California is one of those spots
    I believe that to be true...

    April 26, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Larrold of Schlomo

      That's OK many people believe in a talking snake too. Metiorite falls are as random as one could possibly get. It is beyond understanding that anyone with an education beyon 3rd grade could not see that. Read up on some statistics or basic math, you will soon see there are NO hotspots and California will not slide off the continental shelf and into the ocean. SIGH!

      April 26, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  4. GRS62

    Hey CNN, how about proof-reading before publishing. It's not too difficult: "...and now everyone from NASA scientists to schoolkids is looking for fragments of the fireball "
    Change "is" to "are".

    April 26, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • The Instructor

      Thanks for catching. It is unbelievable how many people don't take the time to check their own work. And I thought it was just college kids. But maybe this is an example of what is to come.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      The verb "is" is conjugated to the subject, "everyone" . Everyone IS, not everyone ARE. CNN was correct.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
    • DRX

      Dude, CNN got it right. The verb "is" refers to the word "everyone," which is singular. Check YOUR grammar.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
    • georges

      I believe "is" is correct, because the subject is "everyone."

      April 26, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Reuben

      The word "everyone" is singular, and calls for a singular verb. "From" begins a prepositional phrase, and the verb should not agree with that. It does look and sound funny, though.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • EGM3

      learn English before you correct people. Subject of sentence is everyone and the correct verb is "is"

      April 26, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Wm Mac

      Everyone...is. That is correct in CNN's article. The phrase starting wiith "from" is a prepositional phrase, and should not change the "is" to "are".

      April 26, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • SG

      actually, 'everyone' is the subject of the statement. Since 'everyone' is singular 'is' is the correct linking verb agreement. Remove the prepositional phrase and it becomes more obvious...you wouldn't say "...everyone are looking for fragments of the fireball"

      April 26, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
    • MisterPL

      It's correct as is.

      "Is" refers to "everyone," not "from NASA scientists to schoolkids." You wouldn't say "everyone are looking for fragments."

      Or maybe you would but you'd be wrong.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • SG

      actually, 'everyone' is the subject of the statement. Since 'everyone' is singular 'is' is the correct linking verb agreement. Remove the prepositional phrases and it becomes more obvious...you wouldn't say "...everyone are looking for fragments of the fireball" The fact that the objects of the prepositional phrases are plural doesn't influence the linking verb.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Melodykari78

      Haha! I bet you feel silly now.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      I was going to say the same thing but you got there before me lol

      April 26, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Nope...CNN was correct.

      April 26, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • happyprimate

      You need to go back to grammer school. "is" is correct. The verb is acting on the word "everyone".

      April 26, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liz in Seattle

      The subject of the sentence was "everyone", which is actually singular, so the sentence is correct as published. You would never say "everyone are", but rather "everyone is".

      April 26, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. svann

    Wait till that asteroid mining company drops one. Woops!

    April 26, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Uh...dropping something that is orbiting another object just causes that thing to orbit on it's own, with the same rotational inertia. It doesn't fall unless you remove energy from it, which would require a large force in the direction opposite it's motion. Didn't you learn that back in high school?

      April 26, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jim

    Funny, we had one the size of a whale just land here in Connecticut. People saw it falling but nobody heard it hit or could find any traces of it after it landed in a local lake. Odd that something falling at terminal velocity the size of a whale made no splash in the lake. Hmmmmm......

    April 26, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      You may be mistaken my friend. I live in CT and have not seen any verified reports of whale sized objects.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  7. Teresa

    It would be interesting to fine out what is in the meteor. I think it was a very interesting article. Would like to know more. It is nice to finally read articles that are possible instead off negative.

    April 26, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • CP in FL

      Teresa – I love reading articles that "are possible instead off negative." That was too funny.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  8. palintwit

    It's always easy to spot Sarah Palin during a meteor shower. She's the one with the umbrella.

    April 26, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  9. Aezel

    You can thank Jupiter and Saturn for your existence. They guard the inner solar system with their gravity wells. Some still get through but without the gas giants you can be 100% sure we'd have been wiped out by now.

    April 26, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  10. Tyler

    Um, it really isn't the half-life of radioactive carbon that is the issue. You can't carbon date something that is not alive. Carbon dating requires an organism to take in a radioactive isotope of carbon. When that organism dies, it (obviously) stops taking in carbon. This means the amount of carbon-14 isotope inside of the organism is "frozen in place" and all of that isotope begins to slowly decay away. We roughly know the abundance of this radioactive isotope relative to the abundance of carbon-12 and carbon-13, and we know the half-life of carbon-14. Hence, we can effectively measure how much of the carbon-14 has already decayed simply by observing how much of it is "missing" - we know how much should have been inside the organism at the moment it died. This allows us to tell how old the bones, artifacts, or whatever actually are. Since meteorites don't eat carbon...well, now you know a better reason why we can't carbon-date meteorites.

    April 26, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • C12

      Plus, even if the thing *had* been living at some point in time, one would need to know the rate at which it was taking-up C-14 from its particular environment(s). That would be impossible, and at best, based on an assumption, as is terrestial carbon dating.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  11. Tyler

    Oh, and GRS62 and The Instructor....you just got burned. Now THAT is quality entertainment.

    April 26, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  12. mysticpather

    lol, and 12-23-12 is coming

    April 26, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. WhatWhatWhat?

    If we're lucky, one will hit that is large enough to destroy about 75% of the population, and then another 10-15% in the aftermath. Then there will be enough room for the rest of us without so many ignoramus's around.

    April 26, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • rosie

      May it land on your house first then.

      April 26, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. vvv

    thats awesome!, good for you.

    April 26, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  15. j

    "what was inside it"

    lemme help you bright people...it was rock.

    April 26, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Not as bright as you might think...Several groups of carbonaceous chondrites, notably the CM and CI groups, contain high percentages (3% to 22%) of water,[2] as well as organic compounds. They are composed mainly of silicates, oxides and sulfides, while the minerals olivine and serpentinite are characteristic. The presence of volatile organic chemicals and water indicates that they have not undergone significant heating (>200°C) since they formed, and their compositions are considered to be close to that of the solar nebula from which the solar system condensed. Other groups of C chondrites, e.g., CO, CV, and CK chondrites, are relatively poor in volatile compounds, and some of these have experienced significant heating on their parent asteroids.

      April 26, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
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