Scientists are set to uncover the secrets of a rare meteorite and possibly the origins of oceans and life on Earth.
Research carried out on the meteorite, which fell in the UK earlier this year, suggests the rock dates back to the beginning of the solar system, 4.5 billion years ago.
The meteorite has now been officially classified, thanks in part to Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) funded studies on the sample.
The Winchcombe meteorite, aptly named after the Gloucestershire town where it landed, is an extremely rare type called a carbonaceous chondrite.
It is a stony meteorite, rich in water and organic matter, which has retained its chemistry from the formation of the solar system.
Initial analyses showing Winchcombe to be a member of the CM (“Mighei-like”) group of carbonaceous chondrites have now been formally approved by the Meteoritical Society.
STFC provided an urgency grant in order to help fund the work of planetary scientists across the UK.
The funding has:
- enabled the Natural History Museum to invest in state-of-the-art curation facilities to preserve the meteorite
- supported time-sensitive mineralogical and organic analyses in specialist laboratories at several leading UK institutions.
Dr Ashley King, a UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum, said:
The meteorite was tracked using images and video footage from the UK Fireball Alliance (UKFAll). UKFAll is a collaboration between the UK’s meteor camera networks that includes the UK Fireball Network, which is funded by STFC. Fragments were then quickly located and recovered.
Since the discovery, UK scientists have been studying Winchcombe to understand its mineralogy and chemistry to learn about how the solar system formed.
Dr Luke Daly from the University of Glasgow and co-lead of the UK Fireball Network, said:
Funding from STFC enabled scientists to quickly begin the search for signs of water and organics in Winchcombe before it could be contaminated by the terrestrial environment.
Dr Queenie Chan from Royal Holloway, University of London, added:
A piece of the Winchcombe meteorite that was recovered during an organised search by the UK planetary science community is now on public display at London’s Natural History Museum.
Source: UK Research and Innovation.
Launched in April 2018, UKRI is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). They bring together the seven disciplinary research councils, Research England, which is responsible for supporting research and knowledge exchange at higher education institutions in England, and the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. For more details go to: https://www.ukri.org/