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That big rock sitting in the garden? Meteorite.

A rock picked up in a ditch along a stretch of road in north central Oregon by a couple in 1999 turns out to be a rare, ancient meteorite.

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The latest find represents a relatively common type of meteorite, according to Melinda Hutson, a planetary scientist at Portland State University who helped make the classification. But, she added that it has several intriguing features.

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"The meteorite isn't significantly weathered, but it has a distinctive yellow tint caused by weathering unlike that seen in meteorites recovered from deserts in Africa or Antarctica," Hutson said. "Also, it has beautiful shock veins and glass, caused by a major collision in space."

Morrow County meteorite

Both the name and classification of the meteorite have received official approval from the Nomenclature Committee of the Meteoritical Society, and a type sample now resides with Portland State University.

Meteorites can easily remain anonymous in Oregon's heavily forested lands west of the Cascades, and many dark-colored volcanic rocks to the east of the Cascades look similar to real, dark-colored meteorites.

Dark bedrock geology and high levels of precipitation translate into 34 times fewer meteorites recovered in Oregon per square mile than in Kansas, a state with light-colored bedrock and very little forest. But that has not dimmed the confidence of Oregon's meteorite hunters.

Previously, only four meteorites have been recovered from Oregon, including Sam's Valley, found in 1894; Willamette, found in 1902; Klamath Falls, found in 1952; and Salem, which fell in 1981. Three of these are iron meteorites, whereas Salem and the newly classified Morrow County are both stony meteorites.

"In a way, I'm not surprised at all by this discovery," said Alex Ruzicka, a planetary scientist at Portland State University. "With our vigorous outreach effort I always knew the lab would help to recover more meteorites from Oregon, I just didn't know when. Maybe this will be the start of many more to come"