Searching for Fragments of the Sutter’s Mill Meteorite

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An update about the Sutter’s Mill Meteorite that I mentioned yesterday. A few hours ago, I saw the pieces that Peter Jenniskens brought at the SETI Institute. I am not a meteorite expert but they indeed look like a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite. The fragments are black, with tiny white flecks scattered through the interior. On the surface, one can see black coating due to the heating during the passage through the Earth atmosphere.

Fragments of the Sutter's Mill Meteorites brought by Peter Jennisken at the SETI Institute (1cm cube is added for scale) (credit: F. Marchis)

While watching them, I had this unreal moment when I realized that these tiny pieces of rocks come from space and less than 5 days ago, they were part of a 5m-sized bolide which happened to cross the path of our planet.  Because the meteoroid (source of the meteor) formed shortly after the formation of the solar system, it may be the oldest material that I would be seeing in my life.

These CM Chondrite meteorites are rare (<2%) and extremely valuable scientifically. Because they are primitive and possess organic materials,  they contain information early solar system, the formation of the planets, and possibly the origins of molecules necessary for life.

To be able to study this meteorite, such as to derive the composition of the meteoroid, its internal structure, composition, age and possible origin, it is necessary to find more fragments. A coordinated campaign search is organized by a team of NASA Ames and SETI researchers on Saturday April 28 – 9am to explore an area near the Marshall Gold Discovery State Park. Peter mentioned to me that everybody is welcome but you should be aware that search is expected to be strenuous and take all day.   If you want to participate, don’t forget to bring:

  • strong footwear (hiking boots) to walk on slippery and rocky terrains (and avoid rattlesnake bites?).
  •  sunscreen and hat, as well as clothes that cover arms and legs. This is both against sunburn and for protection against poison oak and poison ivy.
  • water bottle that you can carry along to keep hydrated during the search, as well as lunch or snacks.
  • handheld gps devices (if you have them)

If you are lucky and you find a piece of this meteorite by your own, please do the following:

  • Handle it as little as possible and place it in aluminum foil to keep it clean. If it is wet from the rain, then dry it in the air before placing it in the foil.
  • Note as precisely as possible the find location and any special circumstances, such as the surface it was lying on, whether it appears to have moved, bounced off a wall, etc. Take photographs of the object while still in place, and the surrounding area.
  • If you have GPS, then record find coordinates. If this is not possible, take photographs the horizon.
  • Notify: Peter Jenniskens, 189 Bernardo Ave, Suite 100, Mountain View, CA 94043. Phone 650.8100216, Fax 650-961-7099. Email petrus.m.jenniskens ‘at’ nasa.gov.

I am attaching below a flyer providing more information of this meteorite and how to handle a fragment:  METEORITE ALERT

Saturday is expected to be sunny, so have a good hunting!

Clear Sky,

Franck M.

About Franck Marchis

Dr. Franck Marchis is a Researcher at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute since July 2007. Over the past 15 years, he has dedicated his research to the study of our solar system using mainly ground-based telescopes equipped with adaptive optics. More recently he has been also involved in the definition of new generation of AOs for 8 -10 m class telescopes and future Extremely Large Telescopes. He has developed algorithms to process and enhance the quality of images, both astronomical and biological, using fluorescence microscopy. His currently involved in the development of the Gemini Planet Imager, an extreme AO system for the Gemini South telescope which will be capable of imaging and record spectra of exoplanets orbiting around nearby stars.

3 Responses to Searching for Fragments of the Sutter’s Mill Meteorite

  1. Nathalie Cabrol says:

    As far as handling these rocks, I would advice people to get cheap, disposable Nitrile/Vinyl gloves at the supermarket. They are $7 a box. It should be an absolutely requirement to not touching these rocks with bare hands. That will simplify studies later on, and help make conclusive observations.

  2. […] Und oben der Ausriss eines Flugblatts des SETI-Instituts, das erste Fundstücke zeigt und Tipps zum sorgfältigen Einsammeln gibt: Beim Anklicken wird’s groß und ganz. [NACHTRAG: weitere Berichte hier, hier, hier, […]

  3. Kevin Heider says:

    Also bring:
    Duck tape to seal your pants to your shoes/boots.
    Walkie talkies for groups. (Cells phone can be hit or miss around Lotus/Coloma. Verizon works better than AT&T.)

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