USA TODAY US Edition
Search for asteroid yields ancient find
A team of Arizona State University meteorite hunters located 15 pieces of an asteroid estimated to be 4.5 billion years old that illuminated the earlymorning sky when it broke apart over eastern Arizona earlier this month, according to the university.
After searching for more than 132 hours, the ASU team, which worked in conjunction with the White Mountain Apache Tribe, found scattered pieces of the meteorite on tribal lands, according to Elizabeth Giudicessi, an ASU spokeswoman.
The scholars found the pieces after they were granted permission from the tribe to search, Giudicessi said.
The tribe will own the meteorites, but ASU will curate them, caring, storing and securing the meteorites in a low-humidity environment.
The meteorites are pieces that contribute to a bigger puzzle of where exactly they came from, Laurence Garvie, curator of ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies, said.
“It’s an unbelievable discovery for us to all see and hear about the fantastic meteor event over eastern Arizona and then to search — and even bet- ter, to find — pieces from the asteroid,” Garvie said. “I mean, this is only the fourth recovered meteorite fall in Arizona.”
Garvie said the first piece was discovered June 22. About every few hours for the next four days, searchers found new pieces of the fallen asteroid, he said.
Although the recent search unearthed more than a dozen meteorite fragments, the recent discoveries marked just the beginning of the search effort, Garvie said.
“What we did for those four days was a reconnaissance mission just to say, ‘Hey, can we find any meteorites?’ ” he said. “We are planning at least one more trip to better define where meteorites have fallen and to collect more.
“The more we collect, the more there will be available for public to see, and the more there will be for scientific research.”
Originally, Arizona Geological Survey’s seismic network picked up an impact near Payson, more than 100 miles from the Fort Apache Reservation; however, Garvie said that none of the pieces found by the ASU team could have come from the Payson area.
So far, analysis has shown that the meteorite pieces are more than 4.5 billion years old and are identified as ordinary chondrite, pieces from one of the most common classes of meteorite, Garvie said.
Garvie plans to provide more information from his research as he begins a deeper analysis of the meteorites.
He also spoke about the joint effort of the ASU team, the tribe and three volunteers he referred to as “ASU invitees.”
The “invitees” donated their time and research to the search efforts but agreed with the team that the pieces would remain within ASU’s care.