A fragment from the fireball that exploded over California and Nevada on April 22, 2012. Photo Credit: NASA, Lunar Science Institute
Scientists are on an epic treasure hunt for meteorite fragments from a spectacular fireball that lit up the daytime sky over California last month.
The space rocks came from a minivan-size asteroid that plunged through Earth's atmosphere and exploded into a dazzling daytime fireball over California and parts of Nevada on April 22. Meteorite fragments were scattered around Sutter's Mill, an old sawmill in Coloma, Calif. — the same region where the first gold nugget was found, triggering the Gold Rush of 1848.
Now, NASA has a meteorite rush on its hands, one just as exciting as the California's Gold Rush, the agency said.
Fragments from the meteorite fell to Earth on April 22 at 7:51 a.m. PDT (10:51 a.m. EDT). At least one space rock landed in a horse pasture outside of Lotus, Calif., in the Sierra Nevada mountains, according to NASA officials. Merv de Hass, who owns the farm, found the meteorite, but has since donated it to NASA.
"If I could contribute to science in some small way, then that would be great," de Hass said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to the results."
The meteorite found by de Hass is very rare, and scientists are interested in studying it because it could contain molecules that explain how the building blocks of life on Earth may have been delivered from space, agency officials said.
Piecing together clues about the meteor could also help astronomers understand the early solar system and how the planets formed.
The space rock is a rare carbonaceous chrondrite, which decomposes quickly in damp conditions, so the scientists are hoping to locate any other specimens before they are ruined.
"I am grateful this meteorite was found quickly," Jenniskens said. "We need to recover as much material as possible from the damp environment before weather affects the rocks too badly."