Underwater Meteorite
© Pixabay Composite
Just two days into their search for a giant meteorite that crashed off the coast of Washington State, Dr. Marc Fries and the crew of the Nautilus have accomplished their mission: they believe they have successfully recovered pieces of the two-ton meteorite that created a huge fireball the size of a minivan as it streaked into the Pacific. Further analysis is in the works but - if these fragments are genuine - they'll be the first-ever pieces of a meteorite recovered from the ocean.

Based on Fries' calculations of the meteorite's trajectory, the Nautilus narrowed its search to a 0.4 square-mile patch of the ocean. The area was first searched with sonar, then with two ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) named Argus and Hercules. The team then used "a suction hose sampler, magnetic plate, and sediment scoop" to pick up the most promising pieces of rock.

The two fragments found so far are thought to be the outer shell of the meteorite (called the fusion crust) which the Nautilus Live blog describes as "meteorite exterior that melted and flowed like glaze on pottery as it entered the atmosphere."

Impact zone
© Nautilus Live
Even though the meteorite survived entry through Earth's atmosphere, staying in the ocean for too long may have caused it to degrade much faster than if it had hit dry land.

According to Fries, the parent meteorite was "the biggest meteorite fall I've seen in the continental U.S. in the past 20 years." Compared with estimates that they would find two to three fragments for every ten square meters searched, however, it looks like the haul was lower than anticipated.

Though the Nautilus mission only recovered two fragments, it may be enough. According to Fries, who was impressed with the fireball caused when the meteor passed over Washington: "This fall features unusual fragmentation behavior, suggesting it is a mechanically tough and possibly rare meteorite type. All we need is a single meteorite in hand to find out."