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Historic meteorite recovered by team including two University of Glasgow scientists

By Sophie Call

A rare meteorite was recovered in Winchcombe in a search involving members from UofG’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow have taken part in recovering the first meteorite on UK soil in over 30 years. 

After a fireball lit up the sky on the night of 28 February, researchers were able to pinpoint the small village of Winchcombe as the landing location of the first meteorite material retrieved from UK soil in over 30 years. Once the possible landing zone was identified, on the morning of 4 March, 15 researchers from across the UK arrived in Gloucestershire to look for fragments of the meteorite in 16 square km of farmland. 

Among the scientists given permission to travel to the search were PhD student Áine O’Brien and research associate Dr Annemarie Pickersgill, both of the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, who wrote about their historic experience for The Conservation

While hundreds of meteorites hit the earth yearly, the large majority burn up during their journey through the atmosphere. Many of those that do survive are only recoverable in tiny amounts, even further complicating this month’s search was the fact that, as O’Brien and Pickergill wrote: “There are many shiny black things left behind by the neighbourhood sheep. This abundance of black shiny things did make finding the correct shiny black things really hard.” 

Fanning out over the farmland, researchers not only had to ensure every square inch of the fields were searched. But that they maintained the required 2m social distancing. A heavy rainfall was forecast within the week. This gave the scientists a short window of time before the fragments would be washed away, and the opportunity to retrieve much of the meteorite would be lost forever. 

Over the multi-day meteorite search, small piles of dust had been found by researchers and local residents on pavements and in gardens. But it wasn’t until 6 March that a large, intact piece was recovered. Weighing over 100 grams and found by Mira Ihasz, who had accompanied O’Brien and Pickersgill on the search that morning, this was the biggest fragment anyone found. 

The recovery of what would ultimately be over 500g of meteorite materials is not only a historic event but a scientifically significant one as well. The Winchcombe meteorite is of a rare meteorite class, called a carbonaceous chondrite, and it contains ancient organic materials, such as amino acids, that can help shed light on the development of life on Earth. 

Regarding the meteorite hunters, O’Brien and Pickersgill write: “We’re all pretty certain this moment will be the highlight of our careers.” 

The article from The Conservation can be found here and you can read a press release from the University here.


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