NASA Is Hunting for Meteorites Deep Under the Sea—and You Can Come Along for the Ride

On March 7, a minivan-sized meteor flashed through the skies at about nine miles per second before splitting up and splashing into the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Now, scientists are combing the seas for chunks of the space rock, EarthSky reported. And you can join the team for the ride as they livestream their adventure.

If successful, this will be the time anyone has recovered a meteorite from the ocean, as far as the researchers are aware.

NASA scientists are among those hunting for the fragments on the Ocean Exploration Trust's E/V Nautilus ship. NASA planetary scientist Marc Fries marked out a 0.4 square mile region of ocean some 330 feet deep to hunt for the meteorites.

At approximately two tons in mass, this is the largest meteorite fall Fries has spotted among 21 years of radar data. "[NASA's NEXRAD] radars have been collecting data continuously since the late 1990s and have recorded dozens of meteorite falls," he told Newsweek in an email. "This fall is especially unique, however, in that it is the largest meteorite fall to date in the data collected by [the network]."

At about 12.00 p.m. ET, the team will lanch a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to search underwater—weather permitting. The vehicle will use cameras, sonar-like instruments and "magnetic wands" to look for the meteorites, which are usually iron-rich, Mashable reported. The team are searching the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the Washington coast.

Fries and team hope to spy the space rocks with their sophisticated tools, before bringing them up to the surface.

Fries watched the space debris fall from the sky on a weather radar. They appeared less fragile than usual, breaking apart differently to other meteorites.

"This fall features unusual fragmentation behavior, suggesting it is a mechanically tough and possibly rare meteorite type," the cosmic dust curator told Newsweek. "All we need is a single meteorite in hand to find out."

7_2_Meteor An artist depicts a meteor streaking through the sky. Getty Images

The largest chunk detected measures about five inches across with a mass of about 10 pounds, National Geographic's Open Explorer reported. Parts of the ocean floor are thought to be lined with a trove of mini space rocks—scientists estimate two or three meteorites of at least 0.4 oz in mass are lying every 110 square feet in the heart of the fall site.

The ancient meteorites could offer scientists an insight into the early days of our planet, as they offer chemical clues into the conditions of the young solar system. "Having any new piece of that puzzle is always welcome to the scientific community," Fries wrote.

Scientists are racing to find the space rocks because they may degrade underwater. Although it takes thousands of years of exposure to a temperate climate to destroy meteorites, their chances beneath the ocean are slimmer because of damaging salt water.

"I think we have a good chance of finding meteorites, but we are trying something that hasn’t been done before and have to be ready for any result," Fries wrote. "The E/V Nautilus crew is preparing their ROVs as I write this, and in a matter of hours we will know how it turns out. Wish us luck!"

Updated | This article has been updated to include further comment from Marc Fries.

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