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. gingersrule1

    Most of it survived reentry if it exploded you dweeb. Pieces of that meteorite are worth millions of dollars. I'm sure most of you are doing just fine financially so a million dollars is nothing to you right?

    April 26, 2012 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
  2. Eric

    I would need to agree ,these need to be handled with care. We have epidemics we can't control. Who knows what is carried on them. We have kids collecting them to get rich quick. It's amazing how all people consider is if the can make money off this stuff. Maybe there is a cure for decease in them? Maybe there's flesh eating bacteria. I would rather scientist review this stuff then pawn shop enthusiast,or ebay merchants or snot nosed entrepreneurs. Good luck whatever this brings.

    April 26, 2012 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Grant

      The odds of it being a flesh eating bacteria are even less than the odds of you ever contracting a flesh eating bacteria, by a few orders of magnitude. There are so many things that would have to occur for it to be even pathogenic, let alone pathogenic for humans. The reason we have pathogenic organisms in the first place is because they evolved along with us to stay pathogenic. The odds of throwing something randomly into the host/bacteria/virus system we have right now and having it actually cause disease are almost zero.

      April 26, 2012 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      After billions of years floating in space at temperatures hundreds of degrees below zero and no atmosphere around the little minivan sized bugger, while also being super heated thousands of degrees comming through the Earthe's atmosphere, I think we are probably safe from any problems from micro-organisms.

      April 26, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Whome

      Your watching too much SiFi.

      April 26, 2012 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Gary O.

      Lets watch out for The Blob!!!!! (1958, 1988)

      April 26, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
    • duh

      Go back to school.

      April 26, 2012 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      Not to worry, Hundreds if not thousands of tons of space dust and rock fall to earth everyday. Unlikely this one would suddenly turn us all into zombies.

      April 26, 2012 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  3. Steve James

    >>"There's particles inside this meteorite that predate our sun," Ward said.
    I did not think this was possible. The all the dirt in my backyard, these meteorites and the sun should be roughly the same age, no?

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

      Yes and no. Yes they all came from the initial expansion and cooling at the origin of the universe, but no because they were formed before the sun was formed. Meaning they may have specific ratios of elements that would be different than what we see now in the universe. So essentially you could track the change in the amount of elements over time with the formation of the universe. But yes you are right everything is still from the source.

      It's like genetics, knowing the genetic sequence of the first human vs humans now would be interesting, but so is the development and change over time.

      April 26, 2012 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Ray

      Nope! Heavier metals, such as gold, predate our sun's birth and are the by-product of exploding stars that occurred before there was even a solar system. I find that to be mind-boggling!

      April 26, 2012 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
  4. Soren

    Watch out what you wish for all you Steve McQueen wannabes, remember "The Blob"!

    April 26, 2012 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  5. carl

    Eric – space debris have been raining down on the Earth, regularly, for billions of years. Why should we suddenly be afraid? You should try to balance your viewing of Hollywood fantasies with some science education.

    April 26, 2012 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  6. sumday

    so how do you tell a meteor from an average rock? What does a meteor look like?

    April 26, 2012 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Drew

      Meteor is going to have some type of iron deposit that magnets will cling too. You need a special style magnet for this. Also certain characteristics you can Google to understand better. Or watch the show meteor men and learn

      April 26, 2012 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
    • explainist

      guy named google images will be delighted to show you what meteorites look like.

      gray, very heavy, and they ring like a bell when tapped with something metallic

      April 26, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Grandpa RD

      Special type magnet, Drew? Actually the only special magnet is one that won't fall off of the end of a stick when you find a meteorite. Duct tape and ANY fairly powerful magnet will do. A broomstick, magnet you can find at any hardware store and duct tape can make you a millionaire if the debris field is on your property, or on confirmed public land such as a street or a park. If you're out looking, be careful and don't trespass on private land without permission. If you do and get caught doing it, the only meteorite your magnet might attract is a posterior full of buckshot. People tend to get greedy when a literal million+ dollars falls on their land.

      April 26, 2012 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jack the Ripper

    Meteorites and meteowrongs, people!

    April 26, 2012 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
  8. inachu

    Am I wrong to think it is NASA who is driving up the price of space rocks?

    April 26, 2012 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  9. Marlee

    Flesh eating bacteria is alive and well in Michigan. California-money grows on trees and falls from the sky.

    April 26, 2012 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  10. Whome

    This meteorite will help solve the secret to our existence? Now if we can solve the secret to a balanced budget you have really got something.

    April 26, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  11. Graced

    It's all Bush's fault! 😉

    April 26, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  12. Dave

    A large meteor falls from space, breaks up and scatters and then everyone wants a piece. Isn't this how most zombie movies start.

    April 26, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  13. michael

    Those poor fools. It's the BLOB!!!

    April 26, 2012 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Gary O.

      Haa Haa. My Blob comment beat yours by 1 minute!

      April 26, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  14. Smashed

    I'm the one who drove over the fragment and smashed it in the parking lot. I backed up and rammed it several times. I don't want to see someone make a profit on this.

    April 26, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  15. Milky Pirate

    Isn't this how the zombie apocalypse begins? Some kids find a meteorite and...........

    April 26, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
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