Meteorite that landed in UK 'holds clues to how life began on Earth’

Analysis of the space rock has given scientists 'a tantalising glimpse back through time'

Meteorite - March 2021
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A meteorite that crashed on to a driveway in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire last year contains important information about how oceans — and life — formed on Earth, scientists say.

Analysis of the space rock has revealed it contains 11 per cent water and 2 per cent carbon.

Findings show that asteroids played a key role in “delivering the ingredients needed to kickstart oceans and life on the early Earth”, said experts who published the discovery in the journal Science Advances.

Dr Luke Daly, a lecturer in planetary geoscience at the University of Glasgow and co-author of the paper, said: “One of the biggest questions asked of the scientific community is, 'how did we get here?'

“This analysis on the Winchcombe meteorite gives insight into how the Earth came to have water — the source of so much life.

“Researchers will continue to work on this specimen for years to come, unlocking more secrets into the origins of our solar system.”

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The Winchcombe meteorite belongs to a rare class of rocks known as carbonaceous chondrites.

Carbonaceous chondrites comprise about 3 per cent of all meteorites collected on Earth and are thought to contain unaltered chemicals from the formation of the solar system more than four billion years ago.

Dr Ashley King, of the Natural History Museum and co-author of the paper, said the analysis gave scientists “a tantalising glimpse back through time to the original composition of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago”.

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Analysis of the meteorite sample revealed extraterrestrial water that the researchers say “is locked up in minerals that formed during chemical reactions between fluids and rocks on its parent asteroid in the earliest stages of the solar system”.

Chemical analysis revealed this water to closely resemble the composition of water on Earth.

The samples were also found to contain amino acids — molecules that are among the essential components for the origin of life.

The researchers said rapid recovery of the meteorite allowed experts to analyse its composition in pristine state.

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“We’re still reeling from our good fortune to have such an important meteorite fall in the UK, and are so grateful to the local community for their donations and the UK’s cosmochemistry network for coming together to produce this extensive study," said Dr Natasha Almeida from the Natural History Museum, another co-author.

“The combination of such a quick recovery, careful collection and our ongoing curation of Winchcombe in a nitrogen atmosphere means this incredibly fresh specimen will remain one of the most pristine meteorites in collections worldwide.”

Updated: November 16, 2022, 10:17 PM