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Auburn shares in Norcal fireball sighting

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - At least one Auburn resident was in the right place at the right time at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday to witness a fireball blazing across the night sky. The anonymous sky watcher told Placer County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers minutes later of the “fireball” sighting at Luther and Shockley roads in the Bowman area, east of the city of Auburn. The viewer wasn’t alone, with reports coming in throughout the Sacramento area and beyond. The National Weather Service’s Sacramento office confirmed Thursday that there were calls of the large meteor as far north as Chico, as far south as Fresno and as far east as Nevada. Don Machhholz, a Colfax resident who has gained international fame for discovering 11 comets, said he wasn’t one of the people sighting the meteor on Wednesday but that’s understandable. “You can’t predict fireballs,” Machholz said. More predictable is the Orionids meteor shower, which is forecast to be visible in the night sky starting around Sunday morning. The Orionids meteors are particles from Halley’s Comet. Machholz won’t make any predictions on whether any meteors will be seen Saturday night when he helps host a sky viewing session from 7-8:30 p.m. at Meadow Vista Park’s tennis courts. Astronomers will be setting up telescopes for free viewing of the heavens, and distant planets Uranus and Neptune will be among the guaranteed attractions. Machholz said he’s curious whether pieces of the meteor have landed in Northern California. On April 22, a meteor exploded and spread meteorite pieces over about 2 square miles of land in the Coloma area, 18 miles east of Auburn. That set off a Gold Rush-style search for the valuable space rocks, with samples changing hands for $1,000 a gram. Quing-zhu Yin, an associate professor of geology at UC Davis, said Thursday that he’s monitoring any reports on Wednesday’s fireball in the hope that more samples will be available for scientists to study. Yin said 2.2 pounds of meteor pieces were recovered from the Coloma area, with the largest sample weighing about half a pound. A total of 75 meteorite pieces have been found so far, from Coloma, he said. Machholz said that there’s a strong possibility that the meteorites from Wednesday’s fireball have landed in the ocean. But if they haven’t, Yin said he’d like to hear from people who have made possible discoveries. High-resolution photos of potential meteorite finds can be e-mailed to qin@ucdavis.edu. He can also be reached by phone at (530) 752-0934.