A meteorite that lit up the sky above an English village last year is almost as pristine as samples collected by space probes and contains the ‘right’ kind of hydrogen to explain water on Earth, according to the scientists.
Huge fury erupted when a fireball shook the evening sky over south west England on February 28, 2021. Dozens of meteor doorbell cameras and webcams spotted the light sequence, and a 1 pound (0.5 kilogram) fragment of the space rock was soon found in the driveway of a house in the village of Winchcombe, after which the meteorite was named later.
The quick discovery meant the meteorite was barely exposed to Earth’s elements, allowing it to retain its pristine chemical makeup. In fact, the composition of the Winchcombe meteorite is so pristine that it can almost match samples collected by space probes such as NASA’s OSIRIS-REx of asteroids in space, researchers have said in a new study.
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Analysis of this precious rock has yielded fascinating results that appear to support the theory that EarthWater comes mainly from asteroids. The Winchcombe space rock contains hydrogen atoms with an isotopic composition quite similar to that of Earth’s water. Isotopes are varieties of the same chemical elements that differ in the number of neutrons in their atomic nuclei. Other possible sources of Earth’s water, such as cometscontain water with different isotopic profiles.
The analysis also revealed that the meteorite must have broken away from its parent asteroid fairly recently in the cosmic scheme of things – only 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. Most meteorites, the scientists said in the paper, spend millions of years in interplanetary space before their path intersects with Earth, and during that time they are ravaged by cosmic rays and solar wind.
By analyzing data from the cameras that captured the Winchcombe meteorite’s cruise through earth’s atmosphereastronomers have been able to reconstruct the rock’s orbit and determine that its parent asteroid resides in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of March and Jupiter rather than among the near-Earth asteroid population.
The Winchcombe meteorite is a carbonaceous chondritea rare class of meteorites thought to originate from very early asteroids that migrated into the main asteroid belt from the outer edges of the solar system. Scientists believe that the chemical composition of these asteroids has barely changed since the birth of the solar system. And that means that, thanks to its untouched nature, the Winchcombe meteorite offers a unique view into these ancient “time capsules”.
In addition to the good kinds of hydrogen, the meteorite also contains organic matter of the kind that could have given rise to life on Earth about 3.5 billion years ago, the scientists said in a statement. statement (opens in a new tab).
Overall, the Winchcombe meteorite was a very lucky strike.
“Direct links between carbonaceous chondrites and their parent bodies in the solar system are rare,” the scientists said in the paper. “The Winchcombe meteorite is the most accurately recorded carbonaceous chondrite fall.”
Only four journeys of carbonaceous chondrites through the Earth’s atmosphere have been so well observed so far that their origins could be determined. Most of the other finds “are incidental finds that lack information about their source region in the solar system,” the researchers said in the paper.
The study (opens in a new tab) describing the first analysis of this precious rock was published on November 16 in the journal Science Advances.
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