Woodmancote meteorite is a holdover from the birth of the solar system, experts say


An ancient meteorite dating back 4.6 billion years that landed in England earlier this year is likely a remnant of cosmic debris left behind by the birth of the solar system, experts say.

A fragment of the priceless charcoal-black object, up to two inches wide, was found by chemist Derek Robson on the second day of a ground search in March, near the village of Woodmancote in Gloucestershire.

The “incredibly delicate” specimen, which looks like loose dust and loose concrete particles, was found lying in the imprint of a horseshoe in a field.

Experts received special permission from Tewkesbury Council to organize the search in March this year during the Covid lockdown after the meteorite was seen shooting into the sky just before 10 p.m. on February 28.

The fragment found at Woodmancote is believed to be part of the same meteorite that deposited another 300g piece in the driveway of a family home near Winchcombe, also in Gloucestershire, which has just been assessed and assessed to £ 100,000 and donated to Natural History. Museum in London.

Scientists believe the meteorite has traveled more than 110 million kilometers from its “primordial home” in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter – and that it may answer questions about how the life began on Earth.

An image from Loughborough University shows the meteorite found in Woodmancote, Gloucestershire in March by chemist Derek Robson

Ancient rock is a rare example of carbonaceous chondrite, a type of meteorite that often contains biological material. Less than 5% of meteorites that fall on Earth fall into this classification.

“Carbonaceous chondrites contain organic compounds, including amino acids, which are found in all living things,” said Robson, who found the meteorite on the morning of March 28 in muddy fields outside Woodmancote. .

Robson is Director of Astrochemistry at the East Anglian Astrophysical Research Organization (EAARO).

“Being able to identify and confirm the presence of such compounds from material that existed before Earth was born would be an important step in understanding how life began,” he said.

The priceless fragment of black charcoal was found near the village of Woodmancote in Gloucestershire, England which is close to Cheltenham

The priceless fragment of black charcoal was found near the village of Woodmancote in Gloucestershire, England which is close to Cheltenham

Scientists based at Loughborough University are analyzing the small Woodmancote fragment to determine its structure and composition, and will likely publish their findings in a future study.

They use techniques such as electron microscopy to study surface morphology at a nanoscale – equal to one billionth of a meter – and have released stunning new images showing its details with great precision.

Vibrational spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction, which reveal information about chemical structure, crystallinity, and molecular interactions, help determine its structure and composition.

Secondary electronic image of a mineral chondrule embedded in the rare carbonaceous chondrite meteorite (image taken using an electron micrograph)

Secondary electronic image of a mineral chondrule embedded in the rare carbonaceous chondrite meteorite (image taken using an electron micrograph)

So far, they have discovered that the meteorite has never suffered the violent cosmic collisions that most ancient space debris suffered when it crashed to create the planets and moons of our solar system.

But it may contain “previously unknown chemistry” or a physical structure that has never been seen before in other recorded samples.

“The internal structure is brittle and weakly bonded, porous with cracks and fissures,” said Shaun Fowler, optical and electron microscopy specialist at the Loughborough Materials Characterization Center (LMCC).

Pictured is an optical micrograph of the carbonaceous chondrite meteorite, showing integrated mineral chondrules, according to Loughborough University

Pictured is an optical micrograph of the carbonaceous chondrite meteorite, showing integrated mineral chondrules, according to Loughborough University

“It doesn’t appear to have undergone a thermal metamorphosis, which means it stayed out there beyond Mars, intact, because before one of the planets was created, which means we have the rare opportunity to examine a piece of our primordial past.

“Most of the meteorite is made up of minerals like olivine and phyllosilicates, along with other mineral inclusions called chondrules, which, for example, can be minerals like magnetite or calcite.

“But the makeup is unlike anything you might find here on Earth and potentially unlike any other meteorite we’ve found.”

Secondary electronic image of a mineral chondrule in the meteorite revealing spherical mineral inclusions (electron micrograph)

Secondary electronic image of a mineral chondrule in the meteorite revealing spherical mineral inclusions (electron micrograph)

Secondary electronic image of the meteorite showing delicate layered leaf-like structures at 10,000 times magnification.  (electron microscopy image)

Secondary electronic image of the meteorite showing delicate layered leaf-like structures at 10,000 times magnification. (electron microscopy image)

Professor Sandie Dann of Loughborough University, who is participating in the analysis and has previously worked with Robson, called the meteorite a “scientific fairy tale”.

“First your friend tracks down a meteorite, then finds it and then offers you some of this alien material to analyze,” she said.

“At this point we’ve learned a lot about it, but we’ve barely scratched the surface.

“There is huge potential to learn more about ourselves and our solar system – this is an amazing project to participate in. ”

Explained: The difference between an asteroid, a meteorite and other space rocks

a asteroid is a large chunk of rock left over from collisions or the start of the 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 further away from the solar system.

A meteor is what astronomers call a flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns.

This debris itself is known as a meteoroid. Most are so small that they vaporize in the atmosphere.

If any of these meteorites land on Earth, it is called a meteorite.

Meteors, meteorites, and meteorites normally originate from asteroids and comets.

For example, if Earth passes through the tail of a comet, much of the debris burns in the atmosphere, forming a meteor shower.


Arline J. Mercier

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