A lump of a rare meteorite that lit up the night sky over the UK and northern Europe last week has been recovered from a driveway in Gloucestershire.
The fragment, weighing nearly 300 grams, and other pieces of the space rock were located after scientists reconstructed the flight path of the fireball that unleashed a sonic boom as it tore across the sky shortly before 10pm UK time on Sunday 28 February.
The black chunk of rock, a carbonaceous chondrite never seen before in the UK, thumped on to a driveway in the Cotswolds town of Winchcombe, scientists at the Natural History Museum in London said, adding that further fragments were retrieved nearby.
Ashley Green, a scientist at the museum, said it was “a dream come true” to be one of the first people to see and study a meteorite that had been recovered almost immediately after coming down.
Footage of the bright streak captured by the public, and a camera network operated by the Natural History Museum’s UK Fireball Alliance, helped researchers calculate that the meteor had spent most of its orbit between Mars and Jupiter before it ploughed into Earth’s atmosphere.
Computer modelling revealed that any surviving remnants of the meteor were likely to come down as meteorites north of Cheltenham, but with the space rock travelling at about 30,000mph the precise location was hard to predict.
What is likely to become known as the Winchcombe meteorite is the first to be recovered in the UK in 30 years and the first carbonaceous chondrite found in the country to date. Of about 65,000 known meteorites on Earth, only 51 are carbonaceous chondrites. A mixture of minerals and organic compounds, including the amino acid building blocks of life, they are considered the most primitive and pristine materials in the solar system.
Since the meteorite was discovered on Wednesday, Dr King has been advising on the care and carriage of the rock back to London, where it will be officially classified and studied further to understand its significance.
Richard Greenwood, a planetary scientist at the Open University, said he was “in shock” when he saw the lump of rock. “It’s emotional being the first one to confirm to the people standing in front of you that the thud they heard on their driveway overnight is in fact the real thing,” he said.
The university’s Professor Monica Grady told BBC news the fragments were like “a broken barbecue briquette … one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen”.
More fragments may yet be found as black stones, piles of tiny rocks, or even dust, the scientists believe. People in the area who find potential remnants are urged to take a photo and record the location before collecting a sample in aluminium foil and contacting the Natural History Museum.