With the time difference to Australia, the Global Fireball Observatory team at Curtin University were the first to dig into their cameras’ data, quickly realizing there may be very special meteorites to find around the town of Winchcombe, Gloucestershire.
They called in specialists from the Natural History Museum who confirmed it was a meteorite and collected the space rubble for further analysis, all within 12 hours of it landing.
Meteorites are rocks from space that have survived the fiery descent through our atmosphere. There are more than 70,000 meteorites in collections around the world. The Winchcombe meteorite is quite a special one.
Why? Well, of all the meteorites ever found, only around 50 have ever been seen falling with enough precision to calculate their original orbit-the path they took to impact the Earth.
Figuring out the orbit is the only way to understand where a meteorite came from.
The Global Fireball Observatory is a network of cameras on the lookout for falling meteorites.
Of the few meteorite samples with known origins, more than 20 percent have now been recovered by the Global Fireball Observatory team.
The Winchcombe meteorite was one of the most well-observed yet. In an email to the UK team seven hours after the fireball, my colleague Hadrien Devillepoix pointed out that the unusual amount of fragmentation, and the orbit, could mean we would be looking for a less common type of meteorite.
The rest of the fall is affected by high-altitude winds, so predicting where the meteorite will land is not always easy. Researchers recreated the flight path of the space rock to tell people where to search for meteorite fragments.
Winchcombe is a very rare type of meteorite called a carbonaceous chondrite. These meteorites are thought to have formed in the early solar system, billions of years ago.
Some pieces of the Winchcombe meteorite are hardly contaminated at all because they were recovered within hours of its fall.
The speed with which samples of the Winchcombe meteorite were discovered, combined with the precise observations which let us determine its original orbit in the asteroid belt, make it similar to materials returned by space missions.
Alongside the scientific secrets it will unlock, the story of the Winchcombe meteorite is a fantastic demonstration of the power of collaboration in unravelling the mysteries of our solar system.