Fragment From Fireball That Blazed Over UK Found Sitting In Man's Driveway

On February 28, a meteorite tumbled into the earth’s atmosphere. A few fragments survived the journey and landed on the surface. One even landed on a driveway in Winchcombe, England. In of itself, that makes quite the story, but this meteorite fragment is extra special. What makes this meteorite special is that it contains a rare combination of minerals that can give researchers a glimpse into our galactic past. It is a relic from our early solar system.

The occupants bagged the meteorite fragment and contacted the Natural History Museum.

"For somebody who didn't really have an idea what it actually was, the finder did a fantastic job in collecting it," said Ashley King, a meteorite researcher at the museum. "He bagged most of it up really quickly on Monday morning, perhaps less than 12 hours after the actual event. He then kept finding bits in his garden over the next few days."

It is likely a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite.

Carbonaceous chondrite meteorites are made of a mixture of minerals and organic compounds. They can even contain amino acids, which are the building blocks of life.

"There are about 65,000 known meteorites in the entire world, and of those only 51 of them are carbonaceous chondrites that have been seen to fall like this one," said Sara Russell, another researcher at the museum.

The meteorite would have formed when the planets were also forming, so it could give us a snapshot of the materials that were swirling around our solar system as it formed. In particular, it will be interesting to see if there is evidence of water in the meteorite. It is believed that similarly composed asteroids brought water to earth.

Meteorites like these are very fragile.

The rock likely survived the descent because it was moving so slowly — it was traveling about 13 kilometers a second when it struck the ground.

"These meteorites can come in at up to 70 kilometres per second, so if this really soft rock had been travelling that fast, it would have been completely destroyed in the atmosphere," explained King. "The fact that it was going quite slowly, and then that it was collected so quickly after landing, avoiding any rainfall that could change its pristine composition, means that we've just really lucked out with everything."

This scientific moment was a social sensation.

“What also makes this one so special is that we witnessed the fireball,” says King. “There were nearly 1,000 eyewitness accounts reported to the UK Meteor Observation Network and International Meteor Organization, which I think was a record for their website.

“Lots of people saw it, which was fantastic, but also lots of people caught it on their doorbell cameras or their dashcams, which is really exciting.”

The eyewitness accounts have helped scientists to track down fragments.

Citizen scientists helped to make this discovery, which is like a dream come true to many researchers:

"There are so many things that just went right," said Russell. "I was a PhD student when the last UK meteorite fell and I have been waiting ever since.

"I have always daydreamed that there would be a carbonaceous chondrite, but you don't really expect that to happen at all.

"It is absolutely a dream come true."

h/t: Natural History Museum