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. Rocker

    My name is Barack Obama and I wish I had a single rock in my head instead of a void so I could be like Sarah Palin.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Obama 2012

      @ Rocker... you should move to SE Michigan. The autos are booming again. Hiring 1,000's. Homes are selling. All thanks to Obama's stimulus plan.

      April 27, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Pupdog

      So we all agree on something,Palin does have rocks in her head!

      April 27, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  2. eroteme

    Rush to find fragments of Calfornia meteor? I wonder why Limbaugh is interested in these fragments.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  3. PhilTruth

    Don't laugh. A piece the size of a quarter is worth $500.

    April 27, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  4. year round school statistics

    Have you ever considered publishing an e-book or guest authoring on other sites? I have a blog based on the same ideas you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my readers would appreciate your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e-mail.

    April 28, 2012 at 2:30 am | Report abuse |
  5. Rusty

    How long a period of time does it take a meteorite to cease being a meteorite and start being a rock on Earth?

    April 28, 2012 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  6. Victor amaro

    ITS A CONSPIRACY! The government is trying to distract the gold seekers! Can you imagine a more convenient place? Where gold was discovered???

    April 29, 2012 at 3:30 am | Report abuse |
  7. Carri

    We saw this from the upper Oregon Idaho border. I took pics after my son pointed it out.

    April 29, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. tomviolin

    Who researched this article? "It contains complex amino acids. It contains organic molecules. This thing is just a treasure trove of data for scientists," Ward told KXTV. This guy was described as a "meteorite hunter" and those statements are completely unsubstantiated. Making that kind of determination would take careful analysis in a state-of-the-art laboratory that could take weeks, particulary if the fragments were run over by a vehicle, to ensure that the "amino acids" weren't the result of contanimation from terrestrial sources. So, some guy off the street describing himself as nothing more than a "meteorite hunter" gets top quoted making completely unsubstantiated scientific-sounding statements, with a genuine NASA scientist getting the follow-up quotes? Nice.

    April 30, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  9. Pharme578

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    January 16, 2013 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
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