NASA looking for video of weekend meteor

April 26, 2012 8:29:57 PM PDT
NASA needs help. Researchers are looking for photos and video of a meteor that came down in Northern California last Sunday. It created a sonic boom as it raced over the Sierra Nevada and broke apart. Pieces landed in Gold Country, about 35 miles north of Sacramento in Lotus Park.

You can tell a lot about SETI Institute meteor astronomer Peter Jenniskens by what he carries in his briefcase -- meteorites. His latest treasure is protected in aluminum foil.

"This is a big deal for me; very, very exciting," Peter Jenniskens said.

On Tuesday, Jenniskens captured the moment of his meteorite discovery near Lotus, California. The area not far from Sutter's Mill, where gold was first discovered is now a goldmine for astronomers.

"This is the meteorite that scientist want to look at; this is all the good stuff in it, the amino acids, lots of properties," Jenniskens said.

The fragments come from a rare class of meteor that dates back to the early formation of the solar system 4-5 billion years ago. Only about 1.5 percent of meteors that fall to earth have similar properties. Experts believe the object that entered the earth's atmosphere Sunday morning with a loud sonic boom was probably the size of a minivan before most of it vaporized.

Jenniskens' colleagues at the SETI Institute are in awe.

"It's rare and I think Peter is very lucky," planetary astronomer Franck Marchis said.

Not to be greedy, but what Jenniskens really wants now is video of the meteor falling to earth. So far there is only one set of three pictures showing the fireball. He's asking anyone with a surveillance camera from California, Oregon, Nevada and Utah to help him before precious images are erased.

"So please don't hesitate, don't delay, check your video surveillance for 7:51-7:52 in the morning Sunday," Jenniskens said.

It turns out the evidence is only one piece of the puzzle and video is critical in figuring out where the meteorite came from and how it got here.

"This was a little asteroid that came crashing into the earth's atmosphere," Jenniskens said. "I want to know on what orbit it came in on what it looked like, what its structure was, how it broke into the earth's atmosphere. I really want to know this thing."

People who have photos or video of the meteorite are asked to contact NASA Ames and SETI Institute meteor astronomer Peter Jenniskens at petrus.m.jennniskens@nasa.gov.


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