A brief history of the Winchcombe meteorite in the United Kingdom

A brief history of the Winchcombe meteorite in the United Kingdom

There was little time for water from Earth’s atmosphere to contaminate the meteorite after it fell. Credit: Trustees of the Natural History Museum, author provided

On February 28, 2021, for the first time in 30 years, a meteor shower fell in the UK It was later restored by scientists. Today, there is an international effort to study this space rock and learn more about its place in the early solar system.

this meteor Smit winkcombthe town in Gloucestershire where many fragments were found – including a piece that fell on it Family home driveway.

meteorite It formed 4.5 billion years ago in the distant outer solar system, beyond the orbit of Jupiter. We refer to such objects as primordial because they contain some of the oldest solids that formed in our cosmic neighborhood, providing insights into a time when our solar system was in its infancy.

Over time, much of this solid matter coalesced to form larger bodies, eventually giving rise to planets. Today there are some starting blocks that I avoided consuming in this planetary assembly process asteroids Or even smaller things. The Winchcombe meteorite is just such orb.

Some of these free planetary building blocks may have been responsible for delivering water to the early Earth. So, Winchcombe can provide a glimpse in water activity on solid bodies in the ancient solar system.

path through space

Winchcombe is a rare type of meteorite Known as CM chondrite. These meteorites are characterized with high concentrations of water and organic matter (molecules with chains of carbon atoms), both of which are essential ingredients for the emergence of life.

We know the way through space that the Winchcombe object took – its orbit – before it fell to Earth. It is one of only five primordial water-bearing chondrites for which scientists have this information. Knowing its orbit means we can determine where it is in the solar system.

A brief history of the Winchcombe meteorite in the United Kingdom

Space rock contains some of the oldest material ever formed in the solar system. Credit: Mira Ehs Spire Global, author provided

Cut this meteorite It was recovered very quickly—within 12 hours of reaching Earth. This means that there was very little time for the water from the Earth’s atmosphere to interact with and contaminate the meteorite. Given the meteorite’s rarity, primitive properties, and remote origin, its rapid recovery makes the object an ideal candidate for studying the role of asteroids in early solar system.

Perhaps the meteorite was once part of a larger asteroid. But looking at parts of Winchcombe’s organism under a microscope, it soon became clear It is not one rock but many rocks —A complex mix of loosely knit fragments. This structure is the result of collisions between larger asteroids in space.

The debris field from the impact later consolidated to form a new group of smaller, second-generation asteroids referred to as cumulus objects because of their loose and lumpy composition. Winkcombe came from one such debris mound – the fragmentary remains of various rocky bodies of the pre-planetary age.

space slush

Each rocky fragment that makes up the Winchcombe meteorite records a distinct history, revealing, for example, differences in the amount of water it interacted with, and indicating that the original asteroid had a complex structure.

These observations point either to variable amounts of water on that parent body, which intensifies like ice as the asteroid grows, or to an uneven flow of water through the asteroid. When you enter space rocks contact with liquid water They begin to change, forming an unusual shape of fine-grained, dark black “space mud”.

Researchers from around the world are seizing the opportunity to study these minerals because they contain within their crystal structure molecules of the original water that flowed on these asteroids.

A group of scientists has precisely measured the various isotopes (or chemical forms) of hydrogen found at Winchcombe. Along with oxygen, hydrogen is one of the two chemical elements in water. Scientists’ results showed that the water inside the meteorite is very similar to the water on Earth.

A brief history of the Winchcombe meteorite in the United Kingdom

The fragmentary nature of the Winchcombe meteorite was visible using a powerful microscope. Credit: Martin Suttle, author provided

This reinforces the theory that asteroids played a crucial role in delivering water to the early Earth and thus generating the oceans we see today.

catastrophic collision

At some point, the chemical reactions between water and rock were stopped by Catastrophic collision with another asteroid. This event shattered the meteorite’s parent body. Most of the rock fragments in the Winchcombe meteorite are very small, less than 1 mm in size. This pattern of small pieces is evidence of a high-energy impact but also evidence of a weak asteroid.

As our understanding of the building blocks of planets grows, we increasingly realize that the types of planetary bodies represented by the Winchcombe meteorite no longer exist in their original form.

It is likely that most, if not all, small asteroids (those less than 10 kilometers in diameter) are as well. rubble bodies. Winchcombe is a relic from that time and a testament to the fate of most asteroids. We can sum up their history in a few simple words: hot and humid, then smashed to rubble.

The Winchcombe study also helped us understand how these types of meteorites disintegrated in the atmosphere, and thus, why they are rarely found as large boulders.

The search for Winchcombe continues and there are many scientific questions we hope to answer. One particularly interesting study concerns the type and amount of organic matter within Winchcombe and whether organic matter transported by meteorites played a role in providing nutrients — food, basically — to nascent life on Earth.

Introduction of

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