Auburn Webelos Coloma campout yields meteorite discovery

Sharp-eyed Boy Scout discovers raisin-sized extra-terrestrial visitor
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - About the size and shape of a raisin, a meteorite is now the prized possession of a sharp-eyed Auburn boy. River Townsend, 10, made the extra-terrestrial find Saturday morning as meteorite treasure hunters ? amateur and professional, experienced and unschooled ? flocked to the Coloma area in a scaled-down, modern-day version of the rush for gold there 164 years ago. River was one of the few who have been able to find a meteorite from an explosion of fragments above the area April 22. The fourth grade Auburn Elementary School student wasn?t even in Coloma on the weekend looking for space debris. He was with his Webelos Cub Scout pack hiking and working on his outdoorsman badge. But he?s now in possession of a once-in-a-lifetime find after bending down and picking up a rock in a James Marshall Gold Discovery Park parking lot that appeared to be a little different than the other pebbles he had been seeing. Before Saturday morning, River noted, the best thing he had ever found was a $10 bill in a bush. ?It kind of looked like asphalt,? River said. ?One guy offered me $100 for it but I don?t have any plans for it so far.? River is now storing the meteorite in a small, plastic case nestled in foam padding. Superintendent Jeremy McReynolds, of the state park 17 miles southeast of Auburn, described the past weekend as an exhilarating time. ?It?s like reliving the Gold Rush,? McReynolds said. ?People have been out hunting for meteorites and we?ve been hearing wild tales of their discoveries.? The park normally attracts 400 to 500 visitors a day on a late-April weekend but the parking lot was full, with more than 1,000 visiting vehicles, each day, he said. River?s decision to turn down the $100 offer for his half-gram meteorite was a wise one. McReynolds said one six-gram meteorite changed hands for $1,000 a gram. Gold, in comparison, is being bought currently for about $50 a gram, he said. McReynolds said the biggest sample found so far was 19 grams. While the visitor levels have doubled at the state park ? home to the January 1848 of gold in California by James Marshall ? McReynolds said that the so-called debris field spreads out past the park over eight miles. River?s camping trip was at Earth Trek Expeditions acreage near the park and Janette Bowker, River?s mother, said representatives of the site owner were shooing trespassing treasure hunters off the private property throughout the weekend. River was able to have his meteorite weighed and authenticated by NASA meteor astronomer Peter Jenniskens and Greg Schmidt, NASA Ames Research Center deputy director. Schmidt took time to talk with River?s Webelos group, explaining that the meteorite the boy found is 4 to 5 billion years old, dating back to the origin of the solar system. By studying the carbon-based meteorite, NASA scientists are hoping to increase their knowledge of life in the solar system, which they believe is linked to how life first developed on Earth, he said. Schmidt told the group that fragments landing in Coloma and Lotus come from a meteorite about a meter in diameter before it exploded. McReynolds said park visitors are allowed to keep any meteorites they find but they need to abide by park rules banning digging or metal detectors. People should be looking for rocks that appear to be black charcoal, he added ?The best part of the story is that if we can get information from the meteorites, scientists can learn the story behind it,? McReynolds said. ?That?s the real value.? Freelance photojournalist Janette Bowker contributed to this report.