First meteorite fall recovered in the UK for 30 years goes on display at the Natural History Museum

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Curators look at the Winchcombe meteorite CREDIT Trustees of the NHM

The Natural History Museum will reopen its doors on Monday 17 May, complete with a new display of the Museum’s most extraordinary research and discoveries made over the lockdown period.

Visitors to the Museum will be among the first in the world to see a fragment of the awe-inspiring Winchcombe meteorite that fell to Earth as a fireball in February this year, as well as a new mineral from Cornwall which Museum scientists discover – named kernowite.

Newly discovered mineral named kernowite. Source: Natural History Museum

The new display, located in the Vault alongside treasures such as the Aurora Pyramid of Hope, a collection of 296 naturally coloured diamonds, sits at the back of the Mineral Gallery and represents just a small selection of the fascinating work achieved by our scientists over the lockdown period.

Museum Director, Dr Doug Gurr says:

“Our doors may have been closed to the public but our 300 scientists have been hard at work – we’re thrilled to be able to share a snapshot of their research with visitors – the over 4.5 billion year old Winchcombe meteorite and a brand new species of mineral from Cornwall.”

Prof Caroline Smith, Head of Earth Sciences Collections and Principal Curator of Meteorites at the Museum says:

“The Winchcombe meteorite is a carbonaceous chondrite, an extremely rare type of meteorite that holds crucial information about the origins of our solar system. It was recovered just hours after it was seen to fall and has had minimal terrestrial contact. To be able to put it on public display is hugely exciting!”

Displayed next to the meteorite is a newly discovered mineral named kernowite. For over 220 years this specimen, taken from the Collection, was thought to be the mineral liroconite. It was not until December 2020 that an international team of scientists led by the Museum discovered it had a different chemical composition, meaning it was a new species. The team chose its name to reflect its place of discovery; Kernow is Cornwall in the Cornish language.

Both these specimens highlight the importance of Museum collections in documenting our past and preserving precious materials for future research. In 2020 alone, the museum’s 300 scientists identified 503 new species to science including a new species of seaweed and several species of algae – both important for economic and food security – as well as 170 new species of beetle and 70 new wasps. With over 80 million specimens spanning 4.5 billion years, the Collection is a powerful scientific tool.

The Natural History Museum will reopen to the public on Monday 17 May from 10.00-18.00 daily. It is essential visitors book a free timed ticket in advance online at nhm.ac.uk

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