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Davis, California

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

What the Lotus Valley meteorite can tell us

A fallen meteorite in Coloma, Calif. could tell us about the origins of our solar system, according to a talk given by UC Davis associate professor of geology Qing-Zhu Yin last Sunday.

“If confirmed, what we have in hand is perhaps the most primitive materials, preserved in pristine condition in cold storage (never been heated and/or altered too much that the fragile organic matters are still preserved) for 4.567 billion years before it fell on Earth on April 22, 2012,” Yin said.

If initial examinations are correct, this particular meteorite could be a rare find for science. Due to the nature of this meteorite, its discovery and examination could provide new insight into the formation of planets and even life.

“It is one of those very rare carbonaceous chondrites [unmodified meteorites], which contains first or earliest solid objects in our solar system,” Yin said.

The meteorite shows even further potential for study in the creation of the solar system; while Yin focuses on the meteorite’s chemical makeup, UC Davis associate research geologist Gary Acton looks at how those elements affect magnetic fields.

Studying the magnetic fields of our sun as it was forming, called a protosun, can provide researchers and scientists with further knowledge into the formation of planets, due to a stream of gas rotating outward at high speed from the protosun. This stream is called “x-wind.” The composition of the meteorite in Lotus Valley can give Acton information on the protosun that formed it.

“X-wind took the particles that came close to the protosun [due to magnetic fields] and blew them back out,” Acton said. “Those dust particles accumulated into what became the planets, so this was one way that the planets may have formed.”

Because this meteorite is so important to researchers, it is vital that it is recovered in a timely manner. Unfortunately, due to the possibility of the meteorite disintegrating and to the presence of “meteorite hunters” – general public individuals seeking to sell any recovered pieces – the researchers and scientists searching Lotus Valley in Coloma have encountered some difficulty.

“I am very concerned that these specimens remain in the hands of private collectors and professional meteorite hunters with no accessibility to science,” Yin said. “The scientific community needs access to these special samples for research. The value is truly priceless.”

Yin urges that community support is necessary and hopes for these meteorite pieces to come into the hands of scientists, particularly due to the proximity of the meteorite’s fall location to UC Davis.

“We are privileged to be an academic institution closest to the ground zero,” said Yin. “To collect the samples as much as we can, we need your help. We need volunteers, we need your ideas, we need your donation, whichever way you could help to be part of this historic event, please let us know.”

To help in the discovery of pieces of this meteorite, contact Yin via e-mail at qyin@ucdavis.edu.

RACHEL KUBICA can be reached at science@theaggie.org.


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