More than 300 grams of meteorite fragments have been found in and around the English town of Winchcombe, near Cheltenham, after a dazzling meteor fireball was seen blazing over the southern UK on 28 February.
Early analysis suggests the Winchcombe meteorite is a particularly rare kind of space rock known as a carbonaceous chondrite – extremely ancient pieces of interplanetary debris that predate our own planet, explains Ashley King at the Natural History Museum in the UK, who was a member of the team that verified and retrieved the meteorites.
“We study them to learn about how our solar system formed and the origin of habitable planets like the Earth,” he says.
It has been 30 years since an event of this kind in the UK, where a meteorite has been detected falling and then picked up afterwards. But that’s not where its rarity stops. “It is the first ever carbonaceous chondrite to be recovered in the UK,” says King.
The fragile material is notably dark in appearance. “This is because it is incredibly fresh and has hardly been exposed to the terrestrial environment,” he says. “Having such a fresh carbonaceous chondrite fall in the UK is a once in a lifetime event.”
Hundreds of observers across England and Wales caught sight of the bright meteor fireball on the night of 28 February (see video below).
Dedicated meteor-monitoring cameras also imaged the fiery spectacle, enabling experts to predict a rough area where any meteorites might have landed. They then put out a call to the public to alert them to any found pieces of meteorite.
Now that scraps of this space rock have been tracked down, the researchers will be able to further tweak their computer modelling, says King.
“It is possible that there are more stones out there,” he adds. “People in the local area should check their back gardens and driveways for unusual dark rocks and contact the NHM if they find anything.”
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