Winchcombe meteorite has its classification formally accepted

Winchcombe meteorite has its classification formally accepted
Winchcombe meteorite has its classification formally accepted

A piece of space rock that fell to Earth in a blazing fireball in February is now formally known as the 'Winchcombe meteorite', after experts approved its classification.

While the rock was assumed to come from space, it had to be assessed and recognised by the international Meteoritical Society to become official.

The space rock fell to Earth in a fireball seen from across the UK, eventually landing in the Cotswold town of Winchcombe back in February.

Details of the confirmation were published in the bulletin database of the society, after confirming it dates back 4.6 billion years, to the beginning of the Solar System.

It was donated the Natural History Museum, who say it is an unusual CM2 carbonaceous chondrite type of space rock with organic chemicals.

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This makes it extremely rare and extremely valuable, worth an estimated £100,000. Experts say it is the most important meteorite to fall and be recovered in Britain.

Astronomers say the meteorite plunged into Earth's orbit at around 31,000 mph — 40 times the speed of sound — before burning up. Pictured, the 0.6 lb chunk of the space rock, which astronomers are dubbing the 'Winchcombe meteorite'

Astronomers say the meteorite plunged into Earth's orbit at around 31,000 mph — 40 times the speed of sound — before burning up. Pictured, the 0.6 lb chunk of the space rock, which astronomers are dubbing the 'Winchcombe meteorite'

Hannah Wilcock, 25, and her parents Rob and Cathryn were astounded to learn that the 'lumps of coal' on their drive in Cotswolds were a 4.6-billion-year-old meteorite

Hannah Wilcock, 25, and her parents Rob and Cathryn were astounded to learn that the 'lumps of coal' on their drive in Cotswolds were a 4.6-billion-year-old meteorite 

DIFFERENT TYPES OF ASTEROIDS FROM THE SOLAR SYSTEM

Asteroid classification has proved controversial, with a number of letter-based systems developed. 

According to NASA the three main types are labelled C, S and M.

C-type (chondrite) asteroids are the most common in the solar system and likely consist of clay and silicate rocks.

They are darker than other asteroids and the most ancient objects in the solar system - dating back to its birth.

S-type (stony) asteroids are made of silicate materials as well as nickel-iron and are the most common visitors to the Earth of the asteroid types.

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M-type (nickel-iron) asteroids vary depending on how far from the sun they formed.

Some are partly melted with iron sinking to the centre and forcing volcanic lava to the surface. 

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It is a dark grey to black rock, and the formal classification means it can be known as the Winchcombe meteorite officially.

Receiving an entry in the database is the point it becomes official, telling the story of the fall and process of retrieval, as well as the chemical make up.

It includes details from cameras that observed it, eyewitnesses that saw it and statements on its chemistry from initial tests.  

The rock is a 'Mighei-like' meteorite, linked to a type found in Ukraine in the late 19th century, which are among the oldest and most primitive available to study.

Natural History Museum researcher, Dr Ashley King, said they formed right at the start of the Solar System and are 'like time capsules'.  

'They're telling us about the building blocks of our Solar System,' Dr King told the Science In Action programme on the BBC World Service.

'Obviously, we weren't there 4.6 billion years ago, and these meteorites are a way for us to actually see what sort of materials were there, and how those materials started to come together to make the planets.' 

Never previously found in the UK, these often contain organic compounds – providing clues to the building blocks of life in space and what planets are made from.

It is the first meteorite to be recovered in the UK for 30 years, thanks to the spectacular orange and green fireball which streaked across the sky and was caught on film by home security cameras.

The number of different cameras that captured it made it easier than ever for scientists to track exactly where in the country it would land.   

It broke from an object that hit the top of Earth's atmosphere on February 28 and it may have weighed as much as 130lb, measuring more than a foot across. 

Astronomers say the meteorite plunged into Earth's orbit at around 31,000 mph — 40 times the speed of sound — before burning up and shattering into smaller pieces in dramatic fashion.

But unlike most shooting stars, this meteorite was big enough that some chunks survives entry into the atmosphere when it streaked across Gloucestershire at 21:54 on February 28 .

A second meteorite was discovered on farmer Lachlan Bond's sheep field on February 28

A second meteorite was discovered on farmer Lachlan Bond's sheep field on February 28

The very rare meteorite, which weighed nearly 0.6 lb, was donated to the museum despite being estimated to be worth 'tens of thousands of pounds'

The very rare meteorite, which weighed nearly 0.6 lb, was donated to the museum despite being estimated to be worth 'tens of thousands of pounds'

Hannah Wilcock, 25, and her parents, Cathryn and Rob, discovered the meteorite outside their home in Winchcombe last month after it marked their driveway

Hannah Wilcock, 25, and her parents, Cathryn and Rob, discovered the meteorite outside their home in Winchcombe last month after it marked their driveway

Researchers scrambled to locate the four billion year old rocks as quickly as possible because they can reveal more about the origins of the Solar System. 

Very little survived from the dramatic crash landing, leaving a few pounds of material falling to Earth in Winchcombe. 

All of the pieces of meteorite material found in the town have now been moved to the Natural History Museum, and researchers

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