Residents of Ocean Shores, Washington, were startled on the evening of March 7 when a bright flash lit up the sky and a tremendous boom rattled the sleepy seaside town. “They thought it was a spaceship,” local resident Brittany Bryson told the Seattle Times.
It wasn’t a spaceship, but it was definitely a visitor from outer space. From analysis of radar signals, Marc Fries, NASA Cosmic Dust Curator, concluded it was a meteorite about the size of a golf cart that broke apart and splashed down into the ocean about 16 miles off the coast. Approximately two tons of fragments are likely scattered over a half-mile of seafloor.
“This is easily the biggest recorded meteor fall in the United States in 21 years,” Fries said.
Some of the debris that survived the plunge may be as large as a brick, and scientists want to retrieve as much as they can for further study. Luckily, a nearby research ship is in the middle of a survey mission, and they have some high-tech tools to aid in the scavenger hunt.
The Nautilus is the flagship of the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET), a nonprofit group founded by explorer Robert Ballard. Joined by scientists from the University of Washington, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, and NASA, the Nautilus will use remote-operated submarines to survey the area and collect any fragments they find.
The debris field is situated near an underwater canyon about 400 feet deep. The area is relatively flat, making the dark-black meteorites easier to spot resting on the lighter seafloor. The OET, which previously discovered the wreckage of the Titanic, agreed to donate a day of their technical expertise to the endeavor. “It’s a great opportunity for us because it’s such an interesting, pure exploration type mission,” said Nicole Raineault, vice president of exploration and science.
Any meteorites discovered will be added to the research collection at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
The Nautilus also includes a high-speed satellite connection which is used to transmit video and other sensor data in real time to their mission control center at the University of Rhode Island. A live stream video of the expedition will be available at www.nautiluslive.org if you want to follow the search. The remote submarine dive is scheduled to occur between 9 am and 4 pm (Pacific Time) on July 2.
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