A few months ago a meteorite was seen falling over the town of Winchcombe in the United Kingdom. Multiple videos of the meteor burning in the atmosphere were recorded thanks to the cameras of the UK Fireball Network and this led to finding actual fragments of the space rock. And it turns out, as the immediate observations suggested, that this was a very special find.
The Winchcombe meteorite has now been officially classified as a member of the CM ("Mighei-like") group of carbonaceous chondrites meteorites with the approval of the Meteoritical Society. There are only 15 other known CM falls and just over 400 recorded finds. There are over 65,000 meteorites on record.
Preliminary research suggests that it is as old as the solar system, so it might give us some important clues as to what our planet was like 4.5 billion years ago. It also appears to contain exciting molecules that might inform how the building blocks for life got onto our planet.
"The teams [sic] preliminary analyses confirm that Winchcombe contains a wide range of organic material! Studying the meteorite only weeks after the fall, before any significant terrestrial contamination, means that we really are peering back in time at the ingredients present at the birth of the solar system, and learning about how they came together to make planets like the Earth," Dr. Queenie Chan from Royal Holloway, University of London said in a statement.
Carbonaceous chondrites are very rare and the parent bodies of these cosmic rocks are asteroids similar to Ryugu and Bennu, which were recently visited, respectively by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA)’s Hayabusa-2 and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx. Both spacecraft collected samples from the asteroids to understand the origin of the solar system better. The ongoing work on the Winchcombe rocks would be a phenomenal addition to this investigation.
"Being able to investigate Winchcombe is a dream come true. Many of us have spent our entire careers studying this type of rare meteorite. We are also involved in JAXA's Hayabusa2 and NASA's OSIRIS-REx missions, which aim to return pristine samples of carbonaceous asteroids to the Earth," Dr. Luke Daly from the University of Glasgow and co-lead of the UK Fireball Network, added. "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."
If this object wasn’t special enough, it is one of only 40 meteorites whose location of origin in the asteroid belt is known. A truly exceptional find.
“[The meteorite] is made of what looks like water-bearing minerals. It looks like at some point in its past, the asteroid it came from might have had water on it,” Dr Helena Bates, curator of meteorites at the Natural History Museum, London told IFLScience in an Instagram Live interview that you can check out above. “It’s really special. And to get it so quickly was an extraordinary effort!”