Researchers have been conducting scientific investigations on a meteorite that fell in the UK. The meteorite is known as the Winchcombe meteorite and landed in a driveway in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, in March of this year. The meteorite is 4.5 billion years old, making it a very rare type of rock that was around at the birth of the solar system.
Researchers say the meteorite still holds its unique chemistry, so they will be able to get an idea of the ingredients present at the birth of the solar system from studying its chemical composition. Scientists have been able to date the rock with initial analysis showing it is an extremely rare type of meteorite called a carbonaceous chondrite. Meteorites of that type are rich in carbon, water, and organic matter.
Investigators have been specifically probing the organic matter present in the meteorite. Researcher Professor Mark Sephton says the organic molecules in the rock are older than the Earth itself. He notes that similar molecules would have rained down on the early Earth before life emerged and could represent the first chemical steps towards life in the early solar system.
The organic molecules in the meteorite could be leftover ingredients from the early recipe for life on Earth. A small part of the organic content of the meteorite is present as free molecules that can be extracted using solvents. However, the larger part is present as a large organic network requiring heat and hydrogen to break into small fragments that can be investigated.
Simply finding the meteorite was a challenge. A team of researchers was able to pinpoint its location using images and video footage. Among the data used to locate the meteorite were images captured by the UK Fireball Network. European scientists say that about 20 meteorites land on earth each year over the UK, most no bigger than the size of a sugar cube, making them difficult to find.