BEIJING, April 2 (Reuter) - Chinese experts, saying it could be a scientific first, have recovered what they believe to be chunks of meteoric ice that plummeted to earth in Zhejiang province, Xinhua news agency said.
It was a happy coincidence that amateur geologist Zhong Gongpei was nearby on March 23 when farmers saw three large chunks of ice crash with a whoosh into the paddy fields of Yaodou village, the official agency said late on Saturday.
Meteorite expert Wang Sichao of China's prestigious Purple Mountain Observatory in Jiangsu province said two chunks recovered by Zhong were probably ice meteorites but that further analysis was needed for confirmation, Xinhua reported.
No ice meteorite has ever been verified by scientists before, Wang said.
If confirmed, the meteoric find would be China's second major scientific triumph this year.
Paleontologists at prestigious Beijing University said in March they had extracted DNA from a fossilised dinosaur egg, calling the find a major step forward for mankind and one that could add fact to the fictional hit movie "Jurassic Park" in which the extinct giants were cloned back to life.
Scientists culled the DNA from a "cotton-like" part on the inner surface of an egg found in central China. Extensive analysis left them convinced the DNA could only be that of a dinosaur, they said.
Experts are viewing what portends to be the world's first recovery of an ice meteorite with excitement and caution.
"According to witnesses, it fell with a 'whooo-ing' sound, with a cloudy streak, then came crashing down into three fields about one km (0.6 miles) apart," Xinhua said.
Zhong rushed to the scene, recovered two pieces and sent both to Purple Mountain on March 29 with the aid of a frozen food company, which kept them from melting.
The largest chunk, now about the size of a fist, left a crater about one metre (3.3 ft) in diameter and a half metre deep. The second piece was a bit smaller, Xinhua said.
Wang, a member of the International Meteorite Council, cited strong evidence that the ice chunks were from a meteor that crashed from space into the earth's atmosphere.
"Three pieces of ice falling together trailing a cloudy streak have never been seen before," Xinhua quoted Wang as saying.
"They are white, semi-transparent, with an irregular shape and what are apparently air bubbles on both the surface and inside the ice. Unlike man-made ice, the ice has air bubbles, is relatively light and doesn't have the layered structure of hailstones," he said.
"Judging from this, they can only be seen to be ice meteorites," he said.
Further tests will involve closer inspection of the molecular and atomic structure of the ice. Experts want to analyse the ice for isotopes and cosmic dust, Wang said.
Consultations with the International Meteorite Council may also be necessary, he added.