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Meteorite or mere rock" Commerce or science" Coloma hunt continues

Auburn man?s find unconfirmed but could be chance for much-needed windfall
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - With meteorites for the taking in Coloma, Auburn?s John Salfen thinks he just may have one of them. But it?s more than a treasure hunt that led him to Coloma and the discovery in recent days of two potential meteorites. A roofer during an economic slowdown, Salfen said jobs have been scarce and he?d just like to sell the black rocks if they turn out to be authentic. It?s all about making ends meet, he said. One of the two he has high hopes for ? a seven-gram specimen ? could be worth thousands of dollars. Meteorites have been changing hands for $1,000 a gram. The other piece ? about half a gram ? could bring him several hundred dollars of found money. ?I would definitely sell it ? it?s definitely for sale,? Salfen said. The larger one turned up April 26 ? four days after a meteor exploded as it sped toward earth, with pieces landing in the Coloma area, east of Auburn. So far, 18 meteorites have been verified by scientists who have converged with fortune-seekers on Coloma ? the site 164 years ago of James Marshall?s gold discovery. Salfen said he?d be happy even if just the smaller rock could be sold for $500. ?That?s one month?s worth of rent,? Salfen said. Qing-zhu Yin, an associate professor of geology at UC Davis, said Friday that scientists are predicting the search for meteorites is not over. ?There is lots of work to do,? Yin said. ?There should be much more material out there.? The big question scientists from NASA and UC Davis are studying is where the meteorites may have landed in the Coloma foothills. That means charting each find with an exact location to determine the spray of the explosion in a debris field in and around the James Marshall Gold Discovery State Park. ?That?s the million-dollar question,? Yin said. ?We need more information. We?re trying to develop a pattern. It?s really important to map the field out with locations.? Meteorite pieces appear almost like charcoal, with a grayish coating that is marked by ?goosebump-like? surface coverings. In the broken part of a meteorite, a close inspection would reveal grey or white, circular or irregular shaped materials imbedded in the black rock, he said. ?People shouldn?t handle a potential specimen,? Yin said. ?They should wrap it in aluminum foil, and put it in a glass jar or Ziploc plastic bag.? Yin?s office is asking that high-resolution photos of potential meteorite finds be e-mailed to qin@ucdavis.edu. He can also be reached by phone at (530) 752-0934. And they?d like finders to turn the specimens over to researchers for scientific purposes. ?This is very important for science,? Yin said. ?Its value can?t be measured in dollars.? For Salfen, a potential payday is important. ?It?s come down to that,? he replied, when asked whether a few hundred dollars would put food on his table.