NASA And The Nautilus To Scour The Bottom Of The Pacific In Search For A Rare, Two-Ton Meteorite

Equipped with deep sea robots, the Nautilus plans to scan the ocean floor tomorrow to look for scattered meteorite fragments near the coast of Washington.

3D illustration of a meteorite falling into the ocean.
Alexyz3d / Shutterstock

Equipped with deep sea robots, the Nautilus plans to scan the ocean floor tomorrow to look for scattered meteorite fragments near the coast of Washington.

On March 7, a rare and large meteorite crashed down on Earth and splashed into the Pacific Ocean, some 25 kilometers (or about 15.5 miles) off the coast of Washington state.

The bright meteorite, also known as a bolide, was seen falling somewhere within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), not too far away from the coast of Grays Harbor County.

According to Dr. Marc Fries, who is Cosmic Dust Curator at NASA, the meteorite was about the size of a golf cart and broke into several fragments, estimated to collectively weigh around two tons.

“This is easily the biggest recorded meteor fall in the United States in 21 years,” Fries said in a statement.

With some of these fragments possibly being as large as a brick, Fries is eager to retrieve as many as possible, in order to add them to the research collection at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C, reports Digital Trends.

After analyzing radar data recorded by the NOAA NEXRAD system, as well as by seismometers installed both on land and on the bottom of the ocean, Fries has managed to narrow down the impact area to about one square kilometer (or nearly 0.4 square miles).

His investigations also concluded that the biggest meteorite fragments expected to be found on the seafloor weigh about 4.4 kilograms (or 9.7 pounds) and are approximately 12 centimeters (or 4.7 inches) wide.

Finding at least some of these meteorite fragments would be a tremendous win, as no other meteorites have ever been retrieved from the ocean before.

The plan is to team up with the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) and go hunting for meteorites with the Nautilus exploration vessel — the flagship of the OET, which has teamed up with NASA before on other research missions, including the recently announced SUBSEA, the Inquisitr previously reported.

To that effect, Fries traveled out to sea on Friday to meet with the Nautilus crew, which — as luck would have it — is already conducting research in the vicinity of the targeted area, notes Mashable.

This exploratory mission is to be led by Dr. Nicole Raineault, vice-president of exploration and science operations for the OET, and will be using deep sea robots called remote operated vehicles (ROVs) to scan the ocean floor in search for magnetic objects.

Since 90 percent of meteorites have a high content of iron, the ROVs stand a pretty good chance of detecting the scattered meteorite fragments on the bottom of the Pacific.

“The goal is to find whatever we can,” Raineault said in an interview.

In the video below, the marine scientist explains the gist of the expedition, which is slated to run until July 4.

“They pretty much pinpointed the area where this giant meteorite broke up into the ocean and so we’re working with some NASA scientists and some other scientists at universities to try to go map this pretty shallow area — it’s about 150 meters [almost 500 feet] — and then, if we see any signs of debris, send an ROV down for a quick dive.”

Per Fries’ estimates, the team may stumble upon two to three fragments for every 10 square meters (107 square feet) of seafloor where the largest chunk of the meteorite fell into the ocean, notes the Nautilus Live blog.

The actual ROV mission will only take place tomorrow, on July 2, and is scheduled to last for about seven hours, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. PT (12 p.m. to 7 p.m. EDT). Anyone who is curious to follow the meteorite search live can watch the action on Nautiluslive.org.