The main mass of a rare meteorite that exploded over California’s Sierra foothills in April 2012 will be preserved for current and future scientific discoveries, the result of the collaborative efforts of five U.S. academic institutions.
It has found a permanent home divided among the University of California, Davis; the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.; American Museum of Natural History in New York City; The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago; and Arizona State University in Tempe. Together, the institutions have acquired the biggest known portion of the Sutter’s Mill meteorite.
The meteorite is considered one of the rarest types to hit Earth — a carbonaceous chondrite containing cosmic dust and presolar materials that helped form the planets of the solar system.
“With these museums and institutions storing the meteorite’s main mass, it leaves it in a pristine condition to preserve for future generations to study,” said UC Davis geology professor Qing-zhu Yin. “Fifty or 100 years from now, we may have new technology that will enable later generations to revisit the meteorite and do research we haven’t thought of. This gives us a better chance to realize the full scientific value of the meteorite, rather than have it be just a collector’s item.”
The meteorite formed about 4.5 billion years ago. While it fell to Earth roughly the size of a minivan before exploding as a fireball, fewer than 950 grams have been found. Its main mass weighs less than a half-pound and is about the size of a human palm.
When the meteorite landed near Sutter’s Mill, the gold-discovery site that sparked the California Gold Rush, it spurred a scientific gold rush of sorts, with researchers, collectors and interested citizens scouring the landscape for fragments of meteorite.