Sutter’s Mill Meteorite Mania

On April 22, 2012, a bright fireball was seen over parts of California and Nevada at approx. 7:51am (PDT). This fireball heralded the arrival of a mini-van sized space rock which entered the Earth’s upper atmosphere and burned up over Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California, and dropped meteorites across streets and backyards throughout the Coloma-Lotus Valley. These meteorites are now being found by professional hunters, landowners, and average folks alike. It’s as though a second gold rush has hit the Coloma-Lotus Valley!

NASA, SETI and BBC are all in town, as well as scientists and enthusiasts from all over the country! There have been news vans and conflicting information about how to identify and handle these rare “space rocks.” It was one of the rarest types of meteorites to fall to Earth — a carbonaceous chondrite, the earliest solid material to form in our Solar System more than four and a half billion years ago, before the planets, including the Earth, formed.

This meteorite has rocked (pun intended) our quiet little towns! According to UC Davis Geology Professor Qing-zhu Yin, this meteorite could be one of the most scientifically important to fall to Earth since the late 1960’s. NASA is anxious to learn as much as possible about the meteorite’s fall and origins. Since the impact, more than a dozen pieces have been recovered, weighing around 100g. There are also indications that the fragments may be degrading fast with regard to future scientific analysis due to exposure to moisture and temperatures, so it is very important to recover as much of the meteorite fragments as soon as possible. Time is of the essence!

How to spot a meteorite:

  • Black-greyish look, with a molten glassy fusion crust with goose bumps, and often with cracks
  • If pieces have broken off, the interior should show some specks of minerals — those are the first solid condensates of our solar system
  • They should be distinct from local rocks and surrounding environment.

If you think you have found one, please note that they are extremely fragile and should be put in a jar with some sort of desiccant; they are quite vulnerable to moisture and will turn to dust if not taken care of properly. If you find what you think is a meteorite, try to avoid touching it with your hands. Roll it into a piece of aluminum foil and also include a bit of dirt from the location where found it. If you should decide to share it with SETI/NASA, the scientists can separate out the meteorite material from earth material. Also please make a careful note of the location where it was found (preferably GPS coordinates) and the size in grams/cm.

Email a photo to Peter Jenniskens, so he can determine if this is the real thing or not. Peter will then assign a number that will be accessible on his website, even if you’re keeping the piece or selling it to a collector. He understands the motivation for selling these, although he’d love some samples for scientific study. As has been pointed out, this meteorite is special not only because of its size but its unusual composition.

Here’s his contact info:

Peter Jenniskens
Tel.: 1-650-8100216
Airborne astronomy – Multi-Instrument Aircraft Campaigns

There are also dozens of collectors that will happily purchase your ‘space rock’ for top dollar, should you choose not to donate it to science. Normally a visit to our beautiful valley has you looking up and around at all the panoramic views, but lately everyone is looking down, just hoping for a little piece of big history!
Happy Meteorite Hunting Folks!!!