Search is on for meteorite: Scientists seek fragments off Washington coast

The hunt is underway for a giant meteorite that exploded over the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in March.

Anyone with an internet connection can follow the crew of the exploration vessel Nautilus as it searches for space rock fragments in real time at www.nautiluslive.org.

“It’s going to be totally unprecedented but potentially really cool,” Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Research Coordinator Jenny Waddell said in a recent interview.

Scientists from NOAA, NASA and the University of Washington have teamed up to look for pieces of the meteorite that detonated in the atmosphere and fell into the Pacific Ocean at about 7:10 p.m. March 7.

A bright flash of light and sonic boom were widely observed in Grays Harbor County when the fireball slammed into the atmosphere and exploded about 15 miles off Taholah. The fragments are believed to be in about 500 feet of water.

The Ocean Exploration Trust-led Nautilus expedition was scheduled to run from Sunday to Wednesday. A weather-dependent remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, dive was scheduled from about 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.

The 211-foot Nautilus transmits real-time video from its ROVs to a satellite, allowing the public to see the robotic dives as they happen and to ask questions of the scientists on board.

The Ocean Exploration Trust was founded in 2008 by Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck of the Titanic.

“NASA scientists have been working with us to determine a very small area where the meteorite likely impacted,” said expedition leader Nicole Raineault, vice president of exploration and science operations for Ocean Exploration Trust, in a video posted to the Nautilus website.

“We’re looking for fragments of the meteorite. So that’s kind of exciting because it’s something that hasn’t been found in the ocean before, though we feel pretty confident that putting down the remotely operated vehicles and taking a look and doing visual transects we might turn up something.”

Scientists were hoping to detect the location of the fragments by mapping one square kilometer of the seafloor below the Nautilus.

“If it broke up into all of the fragments that they suspect, the seafloor topography may now look kind of pockmarked,” Raineault said.

Marc Fries, cosmic dust curator at the NASA Johnson Space Center and expedition member, is quoted in a press release as saying that the meteorite that fell over the sanctuary in March was the largest meteorite to fall in the U.S. since modern weather radar went online 21 years ago.

Fries will discuss the findings of the current expedition as part of a public presentation at Peninsula College on Thursday.

The presentation,”How to Find Meteorite Falls with a Laptop Computer and a Desk: Scientific Exploration in the Age of Open Data,” will begin at 6 p.m. in Room M125 in Keegan Hall.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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