Lauretta and Hill examine meteorite

Photo: Andrea Kelly

Dante Lauretta and Dolores Hill, of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, examine a fragment from a meteor that hit the Earth April 22, 2012. Such fragments will help scientists prepare to study an asteroid as part of the OSIRIS-REx NASA mission, launching in 2016.

Three meteorite hunters are donating fragments from a meteorite that hit the Earth in late April to the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

The donation will help local scientists prepare for a joint NASA mission to study an asteroid.

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Meteorite sample portrait

This 42-gram meteorite is the largest of the fragments found after a meteorite hit the Earth's surface in California, April 22, 2012.

UA officials say the donation is significant, because it will help then develop techniques to study the material that comes back from a mission to an asteroid in 2016.

The mission, called OSIRIS-REx, is in conjunction with NASA and involves sending a spacecraft to land on an asteroid, collect samples from it and bring them back to Earth. The mission is expected to return in 2023.

The meteorite samples were donated by three meteorite hunters. Robert Ward found three significant fragments from the from the April 22 meteor. He searched a 2-mile by 6-mile area in California to find the first, the smallest and the largest samples from the meteorite.

Ward says this was the most significant meteorite he has found, out of more than 500 fragments he discovered throughout the world.

“The wealth of information that will be revealed from these samples could dramatically change our knowledge and view of the early solar system and view of the formation of the early planets," Ward said.

Lauretta and meteorite hunters spotlight

Photo: Andrea Kelly

Dante Lauretta, of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, gestures as he explains that fragments from a meteor will help scientists prepare to study an asteroid as part of the OSIRIS-REx NASA mission. With him are three meteorite hunters who donated meteorite fragments. Shown from left: meteorite hunter Dante Hupe, Lauretta, meteorite hunter Robert Ward, meteorite hunter Michael Farmer.

Meteorite hunters Michael Farmer and Greg Hupe also donated samples they found or purchased.

Dante Lauretta is the principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission. He said the samples the meteorite hunters donated are from the same type of asteroid the OSIRIS-REx team will study, which will help the scientists create ways to analyze the asteroid.

three meteorite samples spotlight

Photo: Andrea Kelly

These three meteorites are fragments from a meteor that hit the Earth April 22, 2012. They will help scientists at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory prepare to study an asteroid as part of the OSIRIS-REx NASA mission. They sit on foil, which is the NASA-recommended method of picking up a meteorite to reduce contamination.