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. Martoon

    Meteorite hunter Robert Ward could tell what's inside just by looking at it? Are you sure there wasn't a little green pilot?

    April 26, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • stan

      it happens to be a very rare, very unique class of meteorite that is readily identifiable to those who are familiar with meteorites. look up "CM2 meteorite" if you are interested. the wiki for the murchison meteorite (also a cm2) explains it fairly well.

      April 26, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. palintwit

    Coming soon... "The Palin Manifesto". Painstakingly written by Sarah Palin herself in that same authoritative literary style we've seen on the palm of her hand. Describes in infinite detail her vision for the American space program. Large print, many colorful pictures and one syllable words make it an easy read for teabaggers. Reserve your copy today.

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

      Teabaggers are gay people and 99.99 percent Democrat, except for Larry Craig.

      April 26, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. J Schnepp

    The sound of the meteorite was unbelievable. At first I thought it was the start of an earthquake, then a jet breaking the sound barrier, but the roaring noise continued for more than 20 seconds. Truly an amazing event!

    April 26, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. WhatWhatWhat?

    Measured purine and pyrimidine compounds are indigenous components of the Murchison meteorite. Carbon isotope ratios for uracil and xanthine of 44.5‰ and +37.7‰, respectively, indicate a non-terrestrial origin for these compounds. These results demonstrate that many organic compounds which are components of life on Earth, were already present in the early solar system and may have played a key role in life's origin.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. kampercam

    Andromeda Strain!! Mayan's win again! Zombie's rejoice!

    April 26, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • KKDenver

      How did they win the first time?

      April 26, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. This is Weak

    I want superhero powers.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Innkahoots

      SHAZAM.

      April 26, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  7. HoldOnASecond

    ... Am I the only one who is thinking... "are you sure you want to touch that?"

    April 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bob

    "And now that matter from the early universe is scattered over the California landscape." Guess what geniuses, California (the whole state) is matter from the early universe.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Widow

      guess what genius!?!?! The meteor wasn't subject to the ocean or mass amounts of gases that would change the organic matter inside. It traveled through space for god only knows how long. Are things on earth subject to -1000 degrees or more or who knows how hot passing closely by another star? isn't everything on earth exposed to many many more elements and hence subject to change more than something in space? I guess evolution didn't do much for your genetic line and you are still closer to apes than human

      April 26, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. spacedout

    I was floating in the astral plain when it zoomed past me. It was a VW microbus from the 60's.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. stan

    Bob, the point being that this meteorite is largely UNCHANGED in the last 4.5 billion years. CM2 meteorites havent been exposed to tempertures over about the boiling point of water at all in their life time. can you say the same for the average bit of rock in california?

    April 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  11. b

    "and now everyone from NASA scientists to schoolkids is looking for fragments of the fireball"

    Come on, Editor... Get the grammar right.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hojo

      Everyone...is...

      Should it be "everyone are?"

      April 26, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grammar Police

      Actually, "from NASA scientists to schoolkids" is a prepositional phrase and has no bearing on the subject-verb agreement. Take that out and it says "...and everyone is looking for..." which is correct.

      April 26, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • happyprimate

      There is nothing wrong with their grammer. If you think the "is" should be an "are", then you are mistaken. You get the is from "everyone" making it singular, not plural.

      April 26, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. palintwit

    Scientists at the prestigous Sarah Palin Galactic Observatory / Bait Shop have determined that these meteor fragments are at best 6,000 years old. Their findings are based on certain passages in the bible.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. RSFan

    I heard it is full of lucky charms.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. RSFan

    So the real questions are why, when God created the Earth, he felt the need to disperse asteroids throughout the solar system and how he decides when to send a particular asteroid towards the Earth and how he decided when and where it will fall to Earth.

    He works in mysterious ways.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. xedder

    i hope the scientists release their findings so that us lay people will gain some more knowledge of the early solar system. also, i wonder if this is a pre-tense to the 2012 dooms day scenario?????.....

    April 26, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
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