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Space Rock Splashdown

April 16 2018
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On March 7, 2018, a fireball lit up the evening sky off the coast of Washington State. Research scientist Dr. Marc Fries of the NASA Johnson Space Center quickly identified the event as the largest meteorite fall in the United States in at least the last 21 years, since modern weather radars have been online. The purpose of this expedition is to locate and recover meteorites that have fallen into the ocean 25 km off the WA, USA coast in 125 meter-deep water.

April 16 2018

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Here's some more awesome information from Dr. Marc Fries, NASA Cosmic Dust Curator! These are composite images of the falling meteorites detected on radar, and a poster summary of the meteorite detections, complete with descriptions from local residents!

Greetings, this is Dr. Marc Fries. I am a scientist at NASA Johnson Space Center and my research includes locating meteorite falls using publicly-available data such as:
...weather radar imagery: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/nexradinv/

seismometer recordings, https://www.iris.edu/hq/

...eyewitness accounts: https://www.amsmeteors.org/home.html

...and even satellite-based sensors: https://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/fireballs/ https://www.goes-r.gov/spacesegment/glm.html

To date, my colleagues and I have found about three dozen meteorite falls in NOAA radar imagery, and two dozen of those have produced meteorites. Those meteorites wind up in museums, universities, and private collections. Among the dozen that have not been collected, five have fallen into water (one of which is the subject of another Open Expedition - the Aquarius Project).

The event featured here is a meteorite fall that occurred on 07 March 2018, and ended with all of the meteorites landing in the Pacific Ocean 20-25km off of the Washington coast. The radar images above show the vertical column of falling meteorites, as seen in a total of 26 sweeps of nearby NOAA radars.

Stay tuned as we explore this meteorite fall, and hopefully retrieve one or more of them from the sea floor!

Expedition Background

On the evening of March 7, 2018, over 2 metric tons* of cosmic material landed in the Northeast Pacific Ocean about 25 km off the Oregon/Washington coast. Preliminary analysis indicates that this fall is nearly 21x the total fall mass of the Park Forest, IL, which was previously the largest meteorite fall in the U.S. in the past 21 years. Over 2 metric tons* of material, initially detected using the NOAA NEXRAD radar system, survived ablation and breakup after entering the earth’s atmosphere at ~14 km/s. In addition, resident accounts and recordings of the visible light plasma that resulted from the falling meteorites, terrestrial and ocean bottom seismometers detected the meteorite impacts over the course of several minutes (https://pnsn.org/blog/2018/03/22/seismology-in-the-air)..) These include the first known detections of meteorite impacts by ocean-based seismometers. The largest meteorite detected is approximately 4.4 kg* in mass and 12 cm* in diameter. In the center of the strewn field, calculations indicate that there should be 2-3 meteorites 10 g or larger over every 10 square meters of the seafloor in the. The fall site of the largest meteorites is known to within a 1km-diameter circle.


Recovering and analyzing meteorites provides critical insights into the early processes leading to the formation of the Earth and other terrestrial planets, and in the modern day understanding this fall will provide valuable information on the threat posed by asteroids with Earth-crossing orbits. Meteorites are fragments left over from the formation of our planet and are typically ~4.5 billion years old. While tens of thousands of meteorites are known and recorded in the Meteoritical Society database (https://www.lpi.usra.edu/meteor/),,) each new meteorite is important because it acts like an additional puzzle piece in sorting out the physical and chemical conditions that existed during the early Solar System. This meteorite fall is especially interesting because it is a rare, very massive fall. Understanding the composition, mechanical properties, and orbit of this body will assist NASA in understanding the threat of large meteorite falls to Earth.

Timely recovery is key because meteorites typically are composed of mineralogy that has not been exposed to terrestrial water and oxygen, and so they tend to degrade rapidly upon fall to Earth. The oldest terrestrial residence age for a meteorite is on the order of 1 million years, for a meteorite recovered from extended cold storage in Antarctica. For meteorites that land in temperate climes, they can be expected to degrade much faster and are generally destroyed in a matter of thousands of years. Meteorites on the seafloor have never been recovered before, as exposure to salt water will degrade them far faster than any temperature, land-based environment. Recovery of these meteorites should occur as soon as possible to preserve their scientific utility.

Local news reporting of the boldie: http://q13fox.com/2018/03/08/nasa-says-fireball-that-shook-washington-coast-about-the-size-of-minivan/

The images below are of meteorites collected by NASA from past falls (courtesy of Dr. Marc Fries). Now, join us in our quest to find some new ones on the seafloor!

*These values have been updated from the previous figures of 15.5 metric tons, 98 kg and 40 cm due to recalculations based on further radar analysis.

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Dana, this is such an interesting expedition! When are you hoping to begin the search?

Madeline - Good question! As you might imagine, this expedition will require a ship and robotic vehicles that can operate in the ocean. We're in the process of contacting prospective partners who may be able to assist with equipment and/or funding. This could work through more traditional academic funding routes, or through others who have a sense of adventure and would like to be involved!