A team of Glasgow scientists hope to unlock the origins of life on Earth by examining the rare Winchcombe Meteorite.
Research into the meteorite, which fell in the UK earlier this year, suggests that the cosmic rock dates back to the beginning of the Solar System some 4.5 billion years ago.
Named after the Gloucestershire town where it landed, the Winchcombe Meteorite is a rare type called a carbonaceous chondrite.
This stony meteorite, which researchers say is rich in water and organic matter, has retained its chemistry from the early formation of the solar system.
Initial analysis shows Winchcombe to be a member of the CM (“Mighei-like”) group of carbonaceous chondrites. The meteorite has now been formally approved by the Meteoritical Society.
Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) grant funding has helped to support research into the rare meteorite.
Through this, the Natural History Museum has invested in state-of-the-art curation facilities to preserve the meteorite while funding also enabled several UK institutions to examine it, including the University of Glasgow.
Dr Ashley King, a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum, said the meteorite is the first to be recovered in the UK for three decades.
The discovery also marks the first time a carbonaceous chondrite has been recovered in Britain.
“STFC’s funding is aiding us with this unique opportunity to discover the origins of water and life on Earth,” Dr King said.
“Through the funding, we have been able to invest in state-of-the-art equipment that has contributed to our analysis and research into the Winchcombe meteorite.”
The meteorite was tracked using images and video footage from the UK Fireball Alliance, after which fragments of the meteorite 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 billions of years ago.
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Dr Luke Daly from the University of Glasgow and co-lead of the UK Fireball Network, said the opportunity to investigate Winchcombe is a “dream come true”.
“Many of us have spent our entire careers studying this type of rare meteorite,” he said.
“For a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite to fall in the UK, and for it to be recovered so quickly and have a known orbit, is a really special event and a fantastic opportunity for the UK planetary science community.”
A piece of the Winchcombe meteorite that was recovered is now on public display at London’s Natural History Museum.