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Extra-terrestrial water discovered for first time as meteorite lands in UK driveway

Daisy Phillipson

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Extra-terrestrial water discovered for first time as meteorite lands in UK driveway

Featured Image Credit: PA Images/Guy Bell/Alamy Stock Photo

The UK's most famous meteorite which landed in a Gloucestershire garden last year has been discovered to contain extra-terrestrial water.

In February 2021, the space rock spectacularly descended to earth before finishing its journey on the driveway in Winchcombe.

Following its discovery as the first meteorite of its kind to be recovered in the UK in 30 years, scientists have been busy analysing its composition in order to learn more about the surrounding universe.

Ashley King, a meteorite researcher at the Natural History Museum, took to the British Science Festival to reveal new findings about the sample.

As it was collected so soon after landing, the 0.5kg rock - made up of 12 percent water - hadn't been contaminated and therefore provided some key insights into where the water in our planet's oceans comes from.

Speaking to delegates at the Leicester festival this week, King said (via The Telegraph): "One of the big questions we have in planetary sciences is where did the water on earth come from?

"Were comets the main source, were asteroids the main source?"

"The composition of water on comets, at least a few that we visited, doesn't really match the earth's oceans, but the composition of the water in the Winchcombe meteorite is a much better match.

"So that would imply that carbonaceous asteroids were probably the main source of water for earth."

The Winchcombe meteorite on display at the Natural History Museum. Credit: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo
The Winchcombe meteorite on display at the Natural History Museum. Credit: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

The scientist, who is also part of the UK Fireball Alliance, explained it's the first time a meteorite containing extra-terrestrial water has landed in the UK.

King continued: "What's really exciting for us for us is that Winchcombe meteorite was collected about 12 hours after landing, so the water that's in the rock hasn't been contaminated with the water that we have in our atmosphere.

"So it's basically really fresh.

“We can be really confident when we measure the water that it is extra-terrestrial water. The composition of that water is very, very similar to the composition of the water in the earth’s oceans.

"So it’s a really good piece of evidence that asteroids and bodies like Winchcombe were delivering really important contributions to the earth’s oceans.

"It’s also got 2 percent carbon, and a significant fraction of that is organic materials, like amino acids.

Scientist Ashley King says the findings provide clues as to where earth's oceans come from. Credit: Unsplash
Scientist Ashley King says the findings provide clues as to where earth's oceans come from. Credit: Unsplash

"If you want to start making DNA and stuff, you need amino acids, so all of these starting materials are locked up in the Winchcombe meteorite."

The scientist explained the space rock came from a larger carbonaceous asteroid, believed to have formed around 4.6 billion years ago.

Analysis suggests the meteorite broke off before taking some 300,000 years to finally reach its destination - a Gloucestershire back garden.

Topics: Science, UK News

Daisy Phillipson
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