About 40 people showed at a special meteorite identification workshop — go ahead and call it a space rock geekfest — Saturday at the Presbyterian Church of Novato.
Although the featured "rock star" was Dr. Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, one of the preeminent meteor tracking astronomers in the world, he was trumped by a local hero, NASA astronaut Dr. Yvonne Cagle.
"She is so jazzed that she is the only astronaut to have a meteorite from space hit her hometown," said Leigh Blair, whose son is the proud owner of a meteorite that struck their neighbors' house during a fireball disintegration on Oct. 17. The neighbors, Rev. Kent and Lisa Webber, gave the rock to Blair's son, Glenn Rivera, who has since spent time hunting for more meteorites with Jenniskens.
During her visit to town, Cagle went up on the Webbers' roof to check out the meteorite divot and later said this: "Pivotally paving my way to space, Novato has always opened her arms and 'made space' for me by giving me both a 'stellar' education and an abiding sense of community. Hence, it does not surprise me that space, in the form of the Novato Meteorite, not only went out of its way to 'give back' but eagerly sought out Novato's hearth — and heart — to call home!"
Novato briefly became the focus of the meteorite world as space rock hunters scoured streets, sidewalks and open spaces trying to find more confirmed fragments from the fireball. In all, six have been confirmed.
Cagle, a 1977 graduate of Novato High School, has a bachelor's degree from San Francisco State and a medical degree from the University of Washington. She has worked, studied and taught all over the world.
Saturday's event was billed as a chance to show rocks to an expert, Jenniskens, who brought a petrographic microscope with him. A few dozen people showed up with just one potential specimen or bags or boxes of rocks, Blair said. Some folks brought meteorites they had found from other locations just to show. No new meteorites were identified at the event.
Jenniskens is convinced that more meteorites are among us because of the trajectory of the Oct. 17 fireball. People from other areas are searching in Novato and areas to the southwest of downtown Sonoma.
"Everyone studied the meteorites already found so they have a better idea what they look like," Blair said.