Melted material recovered from the seafloor in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in July 2018 during a one day search opportunity aboard the R/V Nautilus.

SEM image courtesy of NASA

About the Project (from SOI):

On March 7, 2018 at 8:05 PM local time, a meteorite broke up over the coast of Washington state, raining extraterrestrial rocks down into the ocean. This meteorite fall was detected by weather radars from the nationwide NEXRAD radar networkwhich recorded images of the falling rocks and data showing that they were composed of an unusually tough meteorite of unknown composition. The meteorite split into many different pieces, all hitting the ocean in a strewn field approximately 11km long. Eyewitnesses across western Washington reported the cloudy sky brightening significantly, and those near the coast reported sonic booms loud enough to shake their homes and cars. The massive size of the event caused impact signals to be recorded by ocean-floor seismometers, passive sonar, and even a weather buoy – this is the first time a meteorite fall has triggered and been recorded by these sensors. At present, the question remains unanswered – what kind of meteorite could cause a fall like this? Only by recovering at least one meteorite from the seafloor will we know.

Schmidt Ocean Institute’s R/V Falkor Cruise: Seeking Space Rocks

EEPS science communications specialist Linda Welzenbach recently coordinated, documented and chronicled a unique planetary science exploratory expedition.  Scientists from  NOAA , Case Western Reserve University, NASA Johnson Space Center, Goddard Space Flight Center, University of Maryland, College Park and Harvard University (the latter three are part of a consortium called the Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures-LAB) were granted a week aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s R/V Falkor to look for meteorites on the seafloor within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

The Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI), founded in 2009 by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, enables technologically-advanced ocean exploration. Using a variety of integrated state-of-the-art remote sensing systems onboard the R/V Falkor,  SOI provides the opportunity through an application and review process, for multidisciplinary international science collaborators to explore some of the world’s most remote locations.  Rice collaborated with SOI in 2012 on the Mapping South Texas Banks Cruise. In addition, Dr. Cin-Ty Lee, faculty and current Chair of EEPS, works with SOI as an external expert during the proposal review process.

The Seeking Space Rocks science team (pictured left to right):

Jenny Waddell, NOAA; Dr. Marc Fries, NASA; Dr. Betsy Pugel, NASA; Linda Welzenbach, Rice University; Dr. Ralph Harvey, Case Western Reserve University; Dr. Ryan Ziegler, NASA.

What makes the Schmidt Ocean Institute unique among other independent science exploration organizations is that supports high-risk oceanographic research as well as expeditions aimed at developing and testing innovative oceanographic technologies, practices, and analytical methods.  The seafloor search for meteorites is certainly not the highest-risk research activity among many of SOI’s missions, but this effort would test team dynamics and the flexibility of strategies and technologies that would not only find meteorites from a world previously considered inaccessible, but also help scientists better understand the challenges of exploring other worlds.  Especially those which might support life.