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. Lee

    Somewhere in CA there is an old man shaking his fist at the heavens and shouting "Ya missed me!"

    April 26, 2012 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
  2. szark

    It's California. They are probably hoping that it contains some pot.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
    • mparr22


      April 26, 2012 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
  3. Steven Brooks

    Urgh. As small a chance as any and everything supposed to grant wealth as any and everything else in this dreadfully empty state...

    April 26, 2012 at 7:53 am | Report abuse |
  4. Concerned

    I am sure that a vast majority of them could not survive re-entry, but isn't anyone concerned about potentially being exposed to extraterrestrial microbes or other "organic molecules"? I am not a UFO guy, conspiracy theorist, or mysophobe, but it just seems as though precautions should be taken when physically handling this material.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Nemo

      Although that would be a wonderful find, it is hiley unlikey given how small the fragments are after it exploded.

      Tests have been conducted to discern if microbes or organic molecules can survive and be transported by meteorites the results are interesting but not convincing.

      April 26, 2012 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Also, the odds of an extraterrestrial microbe evolving to the point of actually being able to affect an earth species is remote to the point of impossibility. There are diseases that jump species here because we evolved from similar genetic templates, in similar environments. That's pretty improbable.

      April 26, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Peters Pole

    Jordy Verrell warned us about meteor sheet.

    April 26, 2012 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Madame Royale


      April 26, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  6. BC

    Impeach Obama!!

    April 26, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Sammy

      How much does the super-pac pay you for each time you post that? If I were them I would want my money back since you appear to be on the wrong story (or perhaps you can't read?)

      April 26, 2012 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Ned Stark

      You can't impeach a President unless he has done something illegal....like invade a sovereign third-world country under the pretext of finding weapons of mass destruction...

      April 26, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Ned, technically that wasn't illegal either. It was just opposed.

      April 26, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Goose

    @ Peter I thought that it was Jordie LaForge!

    April 26, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Grandpa RD

      It's actually spelled Geordi according to a script I have.

      April 26, 2012 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
  8. Caveman

    The reality of it is... this may be how the human race came to be on this planet. If it was me, I'd find all of the meteorite that I could to examine it thoroughly.. It's triple it's worth in gold, perhaps even a priceless find.

    April 26, 2012 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Ned Stark

      Coming from a caveman, it must be true! It is known!

      April 26, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  9. citizen

    The aliens have attached important messages and at least two immunity idols to the fragments.

    April 26, 2012 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
  10. magneticink

    first the gold rush, now this...

    April 26, 2012 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  11. justin opinion

    Complex amino acids and organic molecules.... so the building blocks of life are scattered around the universe landing on billions or trillions of planets. We really need to get out there and explore the cosmos.

    April 26, 2012 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
    • samuraikatana1

      You're right, we do. The only problem is we would need to develop FTL (faster than light) capable spacecraft for it to be feasible. Since we have so far been unable to prove Einstein wrong, we're limited to Mars and the Moon at the present moment.

      April 26, 2012 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Samurai: Not necessarily. Light sails propelled by lasers could push spacecraft in between the near systems in decades, and crews could make the journey around the galaxy in a single generation (for the crews, billions of years would pass on Earth) at a high enough relativistic gamma.

      April 26, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Shishkabab

    Where am i ?

    April 26, 2012 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
  13. Wait What?

    "It contains complex amino acids. It contains organic molecules."

    Did this guy just say that a rock that is older than our sun contains proof of alien life???? What is going on here?

    April 26, 2012 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
    • CP in FL

      Wait What – The meteorite does not contain proof of alien life, but it does have the building blocks of life.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Organic molecules are not life, they are molecules made of the building blocks of life: hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen.
      Also, our Sun is REALLY young compared to the universe. That these would exist from an older system isn't that surprising. (It's still exciting, though 🙂 )

      April 26, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ken

    So it has material in it that predates our sun. To the right wing religious kooks out there that means this meteor was more than 6000 years old..... according to them, that would be even older than when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

    April 26, 2012 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
  15. Darodine

    With how much meteorites sell for between $.50 and $2 a gram (a pound is 453.59 grams), you can make a pretty penny off a relatively small amount of meteorite, especially since many that survive our atmosphere are iron and thereby dense. it's worth collecting. I'm sure Robert Ward made up for the cost of traveling up to Coloma the first day.

    April 26, 2012 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
    • stan

      this one is ultra rare type though. if not much more is found it will be worth easily 1000's of dollars. if 'only' 50 or 100 kg is found it will probably still be worth 50$ / gram. but the market for these new finds is kind of picky, it tends to get driven up right off the bat by people making sure they can get their hands on stuff, the depresses as people sell off what they have found, then rebounding once that inventory is liquidated. at the end of the day a nice, cantaloupe sized chunk might very well buy someone a new home. even in california.

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