Meteorite on the drive 

December 15, 2023

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What fell from the sky?

It’s not every day that something falls out of the sky on your doorstep. However, on the 28 February 2021 that’s exactly what happened to Cathryn and Rob Wilcock and their daughter Hannah on their drive in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire. They found a black splatter, which they thought could be an upturned BBQ, but has actually turned out to be the most valuable meteorite to fall in the UK.

Why was this meteorite so exciting?

Within days Dr Richard Greenwood, from the Open University and Dr Ashley King from The Natural History (NHM) examined the meteorite and confirmed that it was a very rare type of meteorite called a carbonaceous chondrite.  More scientists combed the drive, lawn and flowerbeds with tweezers to pick up the tiny slivers of the rock, finding more than 300 grams. This is a huge amount of meteorite, especially when compared to space missions, such as the Japanese Hayabusa missions that have only returned 4.5 grams of similar material! These carbonaceous chondrite rocks are a dark stony material, and their chemistry has remained unaltered from when the Solar System formed 4.6 billion years ago. Thus, they give us important clues on how our solar system formed. 

This meteorite consists mostly of phyllosilicates, or clays. These are formed when silicate rocks and water come into contact. Thus, one of the interesting things about them is that they have water bound into them. This is of particular interest to scientists as bombardment by meteorites such as this is the current best theory for how water arrived on Earth. Additionally, carbon makes up a few percent of this meteorite, and this is the basis for life so is fascinating to study. 

What does the science tell us?

A research paper more than 100 authors confirms that the Winchcombe meteorite contains abundant hydrated silicates which were formed during fluid-rock reactions, as well as carbon- and nitrogen-bearing organic matter, which include soluble protein amino acids. They carried out detailed comparisons with the terrestrial hydrosphere to confirm that volatile-rich carbonaceous asteroids such as this did indeed play an important role in delivering water to the Earth. 

Conclusion 

The Winchcombe meteorite is a rare carbonaceous chondrite meteorite. It is an exciting discovery as it has the potential to unlock the secrets of how the building blocks for life arrived here on Earth.

For more details on meteorites, sign up for one of our courses today. Meteorites feature in Mission Astro ‘The Escape from the Blue Marble’ course and our Certificate in Space Science. There is an exclusive interview with Dr Natasha Almeida on the course where she gives us a behind-the-scenes look into the meteorite collection at the National History Museum (UK). There is also a sneak peak of this interview on the Mission Astro YouTube channel.

This post was written by Dr Heather Campbell for Mission Astro.

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References

Image Credit: The Trustees of the National History Museum

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