Scientists Strike ‘Scientific Gold’ in California

Posted December 21st, 2012 at 6:58 pm (UTC-4)

Fragments of the Sutter’s Mill meteorite fall collected by astronomer Dr. Peter Jennisken. (Photo:  NASA/Eric James)

Fragments of the Sutter’s Mill meteorite fall collected by astronomer Dr. Peter Jennisken. (NASA)

Researchers have struck scientific gold at Sutter’s Mill, site of the famed California Gold Rush where the precious metal was first discovered in 1848.

In April of this year, the scientists recovered a rare meteorite which contains clues to the early history of the solar system.

Using Doppler radar, the same technology used by weather forecasters, the scientists detected a shower of meteors raining down over the communities of Coloma and Lotus, just after the asteroid broke up in the atmosphere.

That allowed scientists to, for the first time,  quickly find, recover and study a primitive meteorite that had little exposure to the elements.

It’s the most pristine look at the surface of ancient asteroids scientists have been able to study so far. Because of the rapid recovery of materials, scientists were able to detect compounds that quickly disappear once a meteorite hits Earth.

Reporting in Science, the researchers say their rare find was classified as a Carbonaceous-Mighei or CM-type carbonaceous chondrite meteorite, which is known to contain water and complex organic compounds, such as amino acids, molecules that help form life.

But, according to NASA’s Danny Glavin, he and the other scientists weren’t able to detect many of the amino acids in their find because it appeared the samples had been heated in space before arriving on Earth.

“The small three meter-sized asteroid that impacted over California’s Sierra Nevada came in at twice the speed of typical meteorite falls,” said lead author Peter Jenniskens, of the SETI Institute and NASA’s Ames Research Center, both located in California. “Clocked at 64,000 miles per hour, it was the biggest impact over land since the impact of the four meter-sized asteroid 2008 TC3, four years ago over Sudan.”

The scientists also say that, for the first time, they were able to identify the region of space where these types of meteorites come from.

After studying photographs and video of the asteroid, Jenniskens figured that it came in on an unusually low-angled orbit, more like a comet‘s orbit, passing closer to the sun than what has been learned from past recorded meteorite falls.

Scientists found the asteroid, as it was in orbit, was influenced by the gravity of both the Sun and Jupiter at times.

“It circled the sun three times during a single orbit of Jupiter, in resonance with that planet,” Jenniskens said.

A meteor flashes across the sky during the peak of the November 2009 Leonid Meteor Shower. (Photo: Ed Sweeney via Wikimedia Commons)

A meteor flashes across the sky during the peak of the November 2009 Leonid Meteor Shower. (Photo: Ed Sweeney via Wikimedia Commons)

The asteroid that spawned the meteorite was estimated to be around 45359 kg.  Of that, less than 1kg was actually recovered on the ground in the form of 77 tiny meteorites. The biggest of those meteorites was 205 grams.

While the scientists didn’t find much actual gold in the Sutter’s Mill meteorite, about 150 parts per billion, it was still “scientific gold,” according to co-author and cosmochemist Qing-zhu Yin of the University of California at Davis.

“With 78 other elements measured, Sutter’s Mill provides one of the most complete records of elemental compositions documented for such primitive meteorites,” he said.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

6 responses to “Scientists Strike ‘Scientific Gold’ in California”

  1. Paul Felix Schott says:


    Do a little History on this one.

    ALL Should Look Up “2012 DA14”.

    This could take out one of more satellites and the junk and debris from the hit could end up taking out many more satellites very soon after that. All the satellite collision probability will go way up if even one is hit. The velocity that the parts would go to would make them missiles that would start targeting a chain reaction this would not be good.

    Most all will be watching this one and pray it goes by us without a hit. Every Scientist alive will be watching this event. Many will be in Florida for a very special viewing of the once in a Lifetime Event. Professors, Scientist, World Leaders, Ham Radio Operators and Every Astronomer will have its eyes on This Event, along with almost every TV set on Earth.

    “2012 DA14” goes by Earth twice a year and there is no way anyone for sure can tell how close the second pass will be till it passes by the Moon and Earth and the GRAVITATIONAL FORCE effect that it will have on this Asteroid.

    They may come close but this one is already coming very close to begin with. Too close this time or on its second or 3rd pass? Ad a Meteor Shower like the 13 and 14 of December of this year, it might go through or bump into one of them? Or all the other orbital debris like Spent Rocket Boosters left in space that can no longer be moved by a control center on Earth.

    If a big enough one were to slam into the moon in the night sky you would think the sun was coming up early only it would be 5 to 7 times as bright. From The Sun’s Rays Reflection on all the Debris Field.

    2012 XM16, 2012 XM55, 2012 XP55, THERE ARE OVER 25 found just this year 2012 that are part of the Near Earth Object Program that will come close to Earth from now till 2012 DA14 comes.

    You do not want to know how many are on the “PLANETARY DEFENSE” list.
    The PLANETARY DEFENSE is not to protect Earth from men from Mars.
    It is for all mankind with most all Nation in on it to stop if can most all collision with EARTH from a ASTEROID IMPACT. It is if you will a AVOIDANCE SHIELD. “N.E.O.S. Near Earth Object Shield”.

    If only one were to hit or IMPACT EARTH on land get ready for a winter you will never forget. The winter from 1883 -1884 KRAKATOA you will think was a little pebble, and now the stone comes.

    A Shock Wave was felt in England from a Event about 7:15 to 7:20 A.M. Siberia time in the morning in June of the year 1908 high in the sky above the Forest in the remote wilderness of Tunguska Siberia heard an explosion that laid flat more than 800 square miles of the forest with all the trees pointing away from the center of the blast with most all the trees laying on their side. Some trees that were right below the blast were still there looking like telephone poles with no bark or branches left on them. This Asteroid did not hit the Ground and this is known by most as the TUNGUSKA EVENT. For all that lived there it was WORMWOOD Rev 8:11 the wood became full of worms and the rivers water no longer sweet and undrinkable.

    If a Meteor Shower is big enough you might think all the stars are falling from Heaven.

    About one every 100 years makes it into the Earth’s Atmosphere big enough for all to take note. Some make it to the surface the signs are all over the Planet and moon from the ones that have.


    Read your Bible
    While you still can,
    and May our Lord GOD Bless all that do so.
    John 14 : 6
    Luke 13 : 27
    Matthew 7 : 20 – 27

    The Lord’s Little Helper.
    Paul Felix Schott.

    Help others in are Lord’s name Jesus Christ help bring all to know him while you still can.

  2. Dave says:

    Friend. This is a science blog. Mentioning your religion is a categorical error at best. Did you really need that many words to say ZOMG I LOVE JESUS AND ALSO WERE DOOMED.

    BTW that was a nice little pat on the back you gave yourself at the end there.

  3. Biblethumper says:

    I love how the first reviewer shows the same inability to properly punctuate and capitalize that I normally associate with illiterate youtube- oh wait… how did you sneak into this website?

    P.S. Praise be to Krishna.

  4. Jimbo says:

    Hmmm…the world is still here and Jesus still hasn’t appeared. How strange…lol…who would’ve ever thought?

  5. jim jones says:

    Just shut up please

  6. David says:

    Paul Felix Schott, you are so far off the deep end that your God probably wouldn’t even accept you. You’ve bought into a bunch of conspiracy crap that just isn’t true. So take your degenerative poison and move along, this is a place of science.