University researcher helps to recover first meteorite found in UK for 30 years

A team of UK scientists, including a researcher from the University of Plymouth, has recovered pieces of an extremely rare meteorite, the like of which has never fallen anywhere in the UK before.

Dr Natasha Stephen, Lecturer in Advanced Analysis (Earth & Planetary Sciences), was part of a collaborative effort to locate and analyse fragments of the meteorite that lit up the sky over the UK and Northern Europe on Sunday 28 February.

Hundreds of pieces of the rare meteorite, known as a carbonaceous chondrite, survived its passage through the Earth’s atmosphere and landed in and around the town of Winchcombe, Gloucestershire.

Specialised cameras located across the country as part of UK Fireball Alliance (UKFAll) were able to recreate the flight path, allowing scientists to determine exactly where in the solar system it came from, and predict where it fell.

The original space rock was travelling at nearly 14km per second before hitting the Earth’s atmosphere and the meteorite was retrieved in such a good condition, so quickly after its fall, that it is comparable to the samples returned from space missions, both in quality and quantity.

Dr Natasha Stephen during the search for fragments of the Winchcombe meteorite

Dr Natasha Stephen during the search for fragments of the Winchcombe meteorite

The salvage mission was led by researchers at the Natural History Museum and, as well as Dr Stephen, also involved scientists from The University of Glasgow, The University of Manchester, The Open University, and Imperial College London.

Dr Stephen, who is also Director of the Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre, has spent more than a decade analysing Martian meteorites and has been on meteorite hunting expeditions all over the world. She said:

“I’ve been hunting for meteorites several times now, including on fireball searches when a camera has spotted something, but never in the UK. At the time of the last UK event, I was only just starting school. So to have the opportunity to find a UK meteorite as a professional meteorite scientist is just amazing, and not something I was sure would ever happen here at home.”

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