These meteorites found recently in Novato must've had the ride of their non-lives as they blasted through the atmosphere.
The owner of the first of space rocks found in Novato — there are now four, according to this story in the Marin Indepedent Journal — also had the ride of his life a few days ago. Glenn Rivera was invited by astronomers to hunt for more meteorite crash-landing sites from a NASA-hired airship.
"I am definitely having fun with this," said Rivera, a 23-year-old music publicist. "I'm enjoying being part of the team investigating this celestial mystery."
Rivera is a next-door neighbor to Rev. Kent and Lisa Webber in Novato's Pleasant Valley area. The Webbers' home was struck by an object on Oct. 17, creating a small divot in the roof. The object turned out to be a fragment from a fireball from space that had discintegrated over the North Bay.
On Oct. 19, Rivera helped Lisa Webber identify the meteorite — the size of a golf ball — and aided in contacting Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute in Mountain View. Jenniskens was hoping for hard evidence of meteorites after a fireball spewed chunks over the North Bay on Oct. 17. Jenniskens initially said the rock was a meteorite, then backed off, prompting Lisa Webber to give the rock to Rivera as a birthday present.
After more evidence came in, including the discovery of a second meteorite in Novato at an undisclosed location, Jenniskens doubled back to his first instinct on Rivera's rock and declared it a remnant of the fireball. UCLA researcher Alan Rubin has since confirmed Jenniskens' findings, and part of the Rivera meteorite was just sent to Italy for gamma-ray photon testing at Gran Sasso National Laboratory.
Jenniskens told Rivera that the space rock is one of only 20 ever found of that particular type.
"All the researchers are stoked because it's a really rare one," Rivera said.
Jenniskens invited Rivera to join him and another scientist on the airship ride over Novato and parts of unincorporated Sonoma County, following the trajectory of the Oct. 17 fireball. Rivera said he took an oath not to tell what they saw for fear that rogue meteorite hunters — eager to sell galactic collectibles on eBay — might pounce on new potential meteorite locations and rob scientists' ability to research more rocks.
"I donated it to science," Rivera said. "I can only say that we were looking for what they called erosional disharmony. We marked down GPS coordinates of things we thought were interesting."
Jenniskens said a team of volunteers would check areas identified from the airship to see if another meteorite can be unearthed.
The airship Zeppelin Eureka and its passengers started their journey at Moffett Field at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View and landed in Santa Rosa five hours later. Anyone who saw the airship on Oct. 26 will have an idea about the fireball's trajectory, Rivera said.
"Peter (Jenniskens) wants to get the word out that if you saw the zeppelin over your house, you should still be looking (for meteorites)," he said. "He said there is a two- to five-kilometer width to the path, so that's a lot of ground to cover."
The ride was a thrill, Rivera said. The three passengers were briefed by the crew before departure and in the early part of the flight, which went over San Francisco Bay and the southern parts of Marin County before Rivera and the two scientists started paying close attention to possible surface disruptions.
"We got over my house and then followed the trajectory," Rivera said. "It was work, but it was pleasurable. It was actually pretty relaxing. It was unlike anything I've ever done. It was sort of like being on a boat in the sky for five hours."
When the team landed in Santa Rosa, Apollo 11 astronaut Russell "Rusty" Schweickart was there to chat with them. Rivera said he is an avid meteorite enthusiast.
Leigh Blair, Glenn's mother, has spent countless hours with the Webbers, Jenniskens, other scientists, amateur meteorite hunters and the media since the rock slammed into the Webbers' house. Her husband, Luis Rivera, was the one who found a divot in the Webbers' roof that was the size and shape of the meteorite.
"It's basically been our life for the past few weeks," she said. "It's been fun but exhausting."
Rivera's meteorite has been split up into slices that will be evaluated by several scientific teams. One slice will end up at the Smithsonian Institution archives, Jenniskens said.
"Peter thinks I should end up with a piece for sentimental reasons," Rivera said.