Sutters Mill Meteorite Fragments have Scientists on Urgent Hunt
Matt Weiser, sacbee, May 3, 2012
Scientists today are mounting a massive search in the Sierra Nevada foothills for meteorite fragments that may hold clues to extraterrestrial life.
The meteorite caused a stir when it broke apart over the region on April 22. Not only did it produce explosive sounds that stirred many residents at around 8:30 that Sunday morning, but it also showered the region with meteorite fragments.
It turns out those fragments are not just ordinary space rock. It is some of the oldest material in the solar system and may contain molecules that indicate whether extraterrestrial life exists.
Scientists have dubbed it the Sutters Mill Meteorite because many of the particles appear to be concentrated around the foothill area where gold was discovered in California in 1848, near the towns of Coloma and Lotus in El Dorado County.
Experts from NASA and the SETI institute are en route to Sacramento this morning aboard a zeppelin provided by Airship Ventures, based at Moffett Field in the Bay Area. They were expected to stop briefly at McClellan Park airfield around 11 a.m., then lift off again to spend the afternoon surveying foothill regions of Placer and El Dorado counties.
The team will use cameras and binoculars to look for burn patches on the ground, then direct ground crews to those locations to hunt for meteorite particles. The search is expected to continue on Friday.
The material can degrade quickly, so there is some urgency to locate the particles.
UC Davis geology professor Qing-zhu Yin is also hunting for particles. Yin's lab at UC Davis is one of a few in the country with the equipment to analyze and accurately date the meteorite, which may contain carbon, water and even simple sugars -- the basis of life. He hopes to collect as many fragments as possible for scientific analysis.
In a ...