Winchcombe meteorite is first UK find in 30 years – ‘my legs went wobbly’

Posted: March 9, 2021 by oldbrew in News, solar system dynamics

Some carbonaceous chondrites from earlier finds [image credit: NASA]

This rare type of meteorite (less than 5% of all known falls) was also collected by the Japanese Hayabusa space probe from an asteroid in 2010, but these UK samples arrived free of charge. The linked report includes an interview with the ‘wobbly legs’ researcher who collected it.
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Several rocky fragments have been recovered from the fireball that lit up the sky above southern England just over a week ago, reports BBC News.

They came down in the Winchcombe area of Gloucestershire.

A householder first alerted experts after noticing a pile of charred stone on his driveway. Other members of the public have since come forward with their own finds.

It’s 30 years since meteorite material was last retrieved in the UK.

Researchers are particularly thrilled because of the rarity of the rock type. It’s carbonaceous chondrite – a stony material that retains unaltered chemistry from the formation of our Solar System 4.6 billion years ago.

Dr Ashley King from London’s Natural History Museum (NHM) said nothing like it had ever been recorded in the UK before.

“Carbonaceous chondrites are particularly special because they are essentially the left-over building blocks of our Solar System.

“Many contain simple organics and amino acids; some of them contain minerals formed by water – so, all the ingredients are there for understanding how you make a habitable planet such as the Earth,” he told BBC News.

Thousands of people reported seeing a blazing light rush across the sky at 21:54 GMT on Sunday 28 February. But, crucially, the event was also captured on the array of special cameras operated by the UK Fireball Alliance (UKFAll) .

Their information was able to pinpoint the likely area of debris fall.

“Somewhere north of Cheltenham, over towards Stow-On-The-Wold”, was the prediction. This would still have been “a needle in a haystack” quest, but researchers were in luck.

Some of the meteorite had smashed down on to a Winchcombe resident’s front drive.

Dr Richard Greenwood was despatched to see the Winchcombe resident, who wishes to be anonymous.

“I looked in this plastic bag he’d been told to put it in, and my legs went wobbly. It was unbelievable. This is a very special meteorite,” the Open University researcher recalled.

A search team was immediately sent out to comb the local area for more fragments. And, in the meantime, other property owners started notifying scientists of their discoveries, too.

All told, there must be 300-400g of material, most of it now lodged with the NHM.

The pieces are small – marble-sized. Prof Monica Grady, also from the OU, describes them as looking like “a broken barbecue briquette. It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen”, she told BBC News.

Full report here.

[Image credit: BBC]

  1. oldbrew says:

    Re. the Hayabusa samples…

  2. Chaswarnertoo says:

    Did he get paid? Worth money.

  3. So: There was a man, who dropped a dime in the dark, and went over to the street light to look for it. Lo and behold, he found a penny — and his legs went wobbly…

  4. oldbrew says:

    Re. carbonaceous chondrite…

    One of the more outlandish and amusing proposals concerning these objects came from Leslie C. Edie of Bellmore, Long Island. In the Apr 13, 1962 issue of Science,1 he suggested that the long-chain molecules within carbonaceous chondrites might represent encoded information put there by an extraterrestrial civilization (see genome, interstellar transmission). The meteorites were then hurled out into space in the hope that they would eventually be found by another race!

  5. pameladragon says:


  6. tom0mason says:


  7. Graeme No.3 says:

    “Carbonaceous” chondrites?
    Stand-by for the Campaign to stop Chondrites.

  8. oldbrew says:

    BBC: A fireball, a driveway and a priceless meteorite

    “We’re still pinching ourselves – to believe that this actually happened on our drive!”

    Rob Wilcock, his wife Cathryn and daughter Hannah are astounded to find themselves at the centre of a major scientific discovery.

    It was their property in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, that was hit by the most valuable space rock ever to fall on the UK.

    The meteorite has had British scientists in raptures of joy.

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