Meteorite Found In California Contains Some Of The Oldest Material In The Solar System

MeteoriteFragments of the Sutter’s Mill meteorite.

Photo: NASA/Eric James

On April 22 of this year, an exploding fireball woke up parts of California and northern Nevada.To earthbound observers, the SUV-sized meteorite looked like a bright streak of green and white in the daytime sky, causing an intense boom as it burned up at a safe distance above Earth’s surface.  

There were initially no reports of fragments from the meteorite reaching the ground. But scientists were able to track down pieces of the space rock two days later using data from Doppler radar at nearby weather stations as well as video and photographs of the fireball sent in by eyewitnesses.

The information led scientists to a place called Sutter’s Mill, about 36 miles northeast of Sacramento, California, where some fragments of the original meteorite (later named Sutter’s Mill meteorite) were found. (Coincidentally, Sutter’s Mill is the site where gold was discovered in 1848, leading to the California gold rush). 

Meteor researcher Peter Jenniskens, of the SETI Institute, led the recovery effort and later analysis, which is all detailed in a study published yesterday, Dec. 21, in the journal Science.

MeteoriteMeteor astronomer Dr. Peter Jenniskens collects the Sutter’s Mill meteorite fragments using aluminium foil so he does not contaminate the stones.

Photo: NASA/Eric James

The asteroid struck Earth’s atmosphere at a record-breaking speed of 64,000 mph, or 17.8 miles a second, at which point the rock is referred to as a meteor. The meteor had a mass of about 88,000 pounds and broke up harmlessly at an altitude of about 30 miles, releasing the equivalent to four kilotons of TNT. A total of 77 meteorite fragments were found on the ground, adding up to less than 2 pounds of material.  

The Sutter’s Mill meteorite is also a rare type of meteorite that belongs to “a primitive class of meteorites called carbonaceous chondrites, which contain some of the oldest material in the solar system,” according to a news statement

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.