Rare carbonaceous chondrite meteorite recovered

Peter Campbell-Burns
08 March 2021
Rare carbonaceous chondrite meteorite find
Carbonaceous chondrite meteorite in Natural History Museum laboratory - Photo: Natural History Museum

The UKMON team has been longing for the chance to bring you this headline, and at last, it has happened. Fragments of the fireball that streaked across our skies on 28 February 2021 fell as meteorites and fragments amounting to at least 300g have been RECOVERED! UKMON has played an important part in this recovery. The impact site was in the village of Winchcombe in the Cotswolds.

This is history in the making. The recovery of a meteorite fragment with data from meteor camera networks is a first for the UK. If this is not exciting enough, it turns out that the meteorite has been identified as an extremely rare carbonaceous chondrite meteorite.

Carbonaceous chondrites are of particular interest to scientists because they will provide insight into the early solar system.

Recovery of the Winchcombe Meteorite was led by Dr Ashley King. The fragments are now in the hands of the National History Museum where they will undergo further analysis. The excellent news is that the samples are in pristine condition, thanks to early recovery and correct handling. The NHM informs us that they are comparable to samples returned from space missions in both its quality and quantity (Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-Rex).

Driveway in Winchcombe in the Cotswolds
Driveway in Winchcombe in the Cotswolds - Copyright Rob Wilcock. Published by permission
Almost complete breakup on impact
Almost complete breakup on impact - Copyright Rob Wilcock. Published by permission

Debris from the solar system is literally raining down on earth all the time, mainly in the form of micrometeorites. Larger meteorites are far less frequent but not at all uncommon. The UK is an island, and if anything is left of fireballs observed over the UK after ablation, then many probably end their journeys with a splash off our coastline. Some will however impact on dry land.

The scientific value of fresh meteorite falls is of such importance that UKMON, the NHM, and other meteor camera networks have together established the UK Fireball Alliance (UKFall), which aims to coordinate the recovery of freshly-fallen meteorites in the UK. By collaborating, we can bring all the available data together, make it available for expert analysis, and identify target areas for search and recovery. With the Winchcombe meteorite, UKfall has passed its first test with flying colours.

Looking ahead, the scientific community will be kept busy for months, perhaps years, analysing this meteorite and publishing papers. We at UKMON will be working hard too. We will be improving the quality of our data by rolling out more Global Meteor Network Cameras based on Raspberry Pi mini computers. We will also be working with UKFall to see what lessons can be learned and what we can do better next time. The Winchcombe may be the first, but it is not expected to be the last by any means.

Recovery of the pristine meteorite sample
Recovery of the pristine meteorite sample - Photo: Natural History Museum

UKMON is a perfect example of citizen science where the amateur community can make valuable contributions to our understanding of the solar system and can help and support the academic science community. UKMON welcomes anyone with interest in meteors and who wants to set up their own camera or cameras; so if being part of this exciting project interests and excites you, then please do get in touch . For UKMON, more is better. The more cameras we have covering the night sky, the better the data.

Recovery of the Winchcombe Meteorite has been a team effort, and UKMON thanks Dr King and the NHM for the opportunity to be part of the collaboration. Other participants included Dr Richard Greenwood (Open University), Dr Luke Daly (University of Glasgow), Curtin University and the French FRIPON network.

Smaller fragments ejected to grass nearby
Smaller fragments ejected to grass nearby - Photo: Natural History Museum
Winchcombe meteorite sample in NHM laboratory
Credit: Natural History Museum
Winchcombe meteorite sample in NHM laboratory
Credit: Natural History Museum
Winchcombe meteorite size comparison
Winchcombe meteorite size comparison - Photo: Natural History Museum
Winchcombe meteorite collection in Natural History Museum
Winchcombe meteorite collection in Natural History Museum - Photo: Natural History Museum


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