Alien water is found in a UK meteorite for the FIRST time: Experts say the Winchcombe space rock that crashed into a Cotswolds driveway last year could help explain how Earth got its oceans
- Alien water has been detected for the first time in a meteorite discovered in the UK
- The Winchcombe meteorite may hold clues to the origin of Earth’s oceans
- The space rock crashed into the driveway of Gloucestershire town last February
- The researchers revealed that 12% of the sample was made up of water
Alien water has been found for the first time in a meteorite that fell in the UK.
The Winchcombe meteorite, which crashed into a Gloucestershire town lane in February last year, is also believed to hold clues to the origin of the Earth’s vast oceans.
Ashley King, a researcher in the planetary materials group at the Natural History Museum, said 12% of the sample was made up of water.
He told the British Science Festival: ‘The composition of this water is very, very similar to the composition of water in the Earth’s oceans.
“This is very good evidence that asteroids and bodies like Winchcombe have made a very important contribution to Earth’s oceans.”
Alien water has been found for the first time in a meteorite that fell in the UK. The Winchcombe meteorite crashed into a Gloucestershire town lane last year
The family believed someone had thrown chunks of coal in their driveway
A family who had a meteorite landing outside their Cotswolds home said they thought someone had emptied a barbecue on their driveway when they saw the rocks.
Hannah Wilcock, 25, and her parents, Rob and Cathryn, were stunned to learn that the ‘chunks of coal’ they heard ringing off their car on the night of February 28 were actually fragments of a Meteorite 4.6 billion years old.
Weighing around 300g in total, the meteorite pierced the sky and crashed into their driveway in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, putting the family at the center of a major scientific discovery.
The meteorite is one of the most valuable space rocks to ever fall on the UK and metal detectors have scoured fields in Gloucestershire over the past month.
Still, Cathryn had other more plausible theories, believing the dark spots on their driveway were parts of a barbecue that had been thrown away after the hot weather.
Hannah said she was inside her parents’ house when she heard a loud bang.
She told the BBC: ‘When I heard it fall I got up and looked out the window to see what was there.
“But because it was dark, I couldn’t see anything. It wasn’t until the next morning when we came out that we saw him on the driveway – sort of like a splash.
“And in all honesty, my initial thought was – has anyone been driving around the Cotswolds throwing lumps of coal into people’s gardens?”
Dr King also confirmed that Winchcombe was the first time a meteorite containing extraterrestrial water – albeit encased in minerals – had fallen in the UK.
He added that due to the speed with which the 1 lb (0.5 kg) meteorite was recovered – in about 12 hours – it was not contaminated by water and materials on Earth.
“We are always trying to match the composition of aquatic meteorites and other extraterrestrial material to the composition of water on Earth,” Dr King said.
“For most meteorites, the challenge we have is that they’re just contaminated, whereas with Winchcombe we really know they really haven’t been contaminated, so that’s good evidence.”
Dr King continued: “One of the big questions we ask ourselves in planetary science is where does the water on Earth come from? And one of the obvious places is either through comets that have loads and loads of ice, or asteroids.
“There is always a debate – were comets the main source, were asteroids the main source?”
Explaining that data from comet missions suggests they don’t match water on Earth, he added: “The composition of the water at Winchcombe is a much better match, which would imply that asteroids – the carbonaceous asteroids – were probably the primary source of water for the inner solar system, Earth.
Dr King continued: ‘We’ve had a hint that some asteroids are a good match for Earth.
“But now we have a meteorite that’s really cool that we know hasn’t been altered, and that confirms the same story.”
Speaking at De Montfort University, which hosts the festival, Dr King said analysis revealed the meteorite came from an asteroid somewhere near Jupiter.
It formed about 4.6 billion years ago, with its journey to Earth taking about 300,000 years.
There are approximately 65,000 known meteorites on Earth.
It is the first known carbonaceous chondrite to be discovered in the UK and the first meteorite recovered in the UK in 30 years.
Astronomers say the meteorite plunged into Earth’s orbit at around 31,000 mph – 40 times the speed of sound – before burning up and breaking into spectacularly small pieces.
But unlike most shooting stars, this meteorite was large enough for some pieces to survive atmospheric entry when it passed through Gloucestershire at 9.54pm on February 28, 2021.
Very few people survived the dramatic crash, leaving a few pounds of material to fall to Earth at Winchcombe.
All meteorite pieces found in the city were later moved to the Natural History Museum.
Sara Russell, meteorite researcher at the Natural History Museum, described the discovery of the meteorite as a “once in a lifetime event”.
The meteorite was the first known carbonaceous chondrite to be discovered in the UK.
It was removed shortly after landing, as scientists were eager to study the rock in more detail.
Explained: The Difference Between An Asteroid, Meteorite, And Other Space Rocks
A asteroid is a large piece of rock left over from collisions or the early solar system. Most are located between Mars and Jupiter in the main belt.
A comet is a rock covered with ice, methane and other compounds. Their orbits take them much farther from the solar system.
A meteor is what astronomers call a flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns.
These debris themselves are known as meteorites. Most are so small that they vaporize into the atmosphere.
If one of these meteoroids arrives on Earth, it is called a meteorite.
Meteors, meteoroids and meteorites normally come from asteroids and comets.
For example, if the Earth passes through the tail of a comet, much of the debris burns up in the atmosphere, forming a meteor shower.