Meteorite hunters: how we found the first bit of UK space rock in over 30 years

It started like any other day in 2021. We were at home working. However, by mid-afternoon, our coworker Luke advised us to get our bags packed and refill our tanks with petrol, just in case we were granted the green light to go on a meteorite hunting expedition.

A few days prior, the fireball was observed flying across the sky in the South of England. The flash was captured by residents’ doorbell cameras. It was especially bright – an indication that meteorites could wait to be found.

A rock that is floating through space is referred to as a meteoroid. When it hits the atmosphere of Earth, creating flashes and flash, you will see meteors. When any rock gets to the Earth’s surface, it will become a meteorite.

Finding a fresh meteorite is extremely difficult. The majority of meteors visible on the sky’s surface are created by rocks and dust as large as grains of sand. A few of these are found in the ground as micrometeorites, but they’re difficult to come across.

They need to be larger to be able to withstand the trip through the Earth’s atmosphere, which is where they get burned and flash off – and finally, make it to the Earth in a large enough chunk that they can be found.

The fireball first appeared on Sunday. On Wednesday, models indicated almost certain that, at the very least, one meteorite had been able to reach the ground. The models were centered around Winchcombe, the quiet village located in Gloucestershire, in which a couple discovered a large pile of black dirt along their driveway.

At this point, Richard Greenwood from the Open University visited the family and confirmed that it was a meteorite. However, the maths showed that there were many more pieces to be discovered. It was time to have experts search for fragments before they were damaged by rain or trampled upon by wildlife.

Meteorite or sheep poo?

Our management team permitted us to go on the trip to confirm the fact that, as researchers performing our job, we were not in violation of lockdown guidelines. A group of about 15 researchers from all over the UK came to Gloucestershire in the early morning of Thursday, March 4. The area we covered was roughly 16 km2. place that meteorites are most likely to land – referred to as an adrift field. We only had an entire week to cover this area before the heavy rain was predicted to arrive.

As we would with any fieldwork that is worth doing, starting by searching the fields. We covered the ground in order by walking 2 metres away – for the best coverage and social distancing in a long line that climbed and slid down.

We were searching for tiny, black, shiny objects in the dirt. Since we were situated in the middle of the Cotswolds, it was not too difficult. There are a lot of shiny black objects left behind by the sheep in the area. The number of black shiny objects was a challenge to find the right shiny black things a challenge but it was a challenge.

The search for fields. Aine O’Brien, Author provided

Also, the search for meteorites was hampered due to the presence of dirt, grass trees, streams and trees. This is why the majority of meteorites have been found in Antarctica and deserts. It’s easier to find dark black rocks in the snow or ice, as it is to find these rocks in English countryside.

The majority of sites we visited were on private land; however, every landowner we talked to was friendly, courteous, and receptive to the significance of our work. Not to mention thrilled at the thought that their land might be the one in which meteorites were found. We’re extremely grateful to the landowners who allowed us to search their fields, and to all of the people who greeted us during such a challenging period of time.

The most important discovery

The meteorite. Aine O’Brien, Author provided

On March 5, the day before, spirits were waning. There were a few pieces of meteorite fragments had been found in driveways or in gardens. However, we didn’t find anything in the open field. One of us, Mira Ihasz, joined our search team. Mira is a part of our search leader, Luke, and that’s why she was permitted to join us under lockdown regulations.

She was working from her hotel room for the past week, but she decided to assist us in our hunt, acting as an additional eye. She’s not a scientist; therefore, whenever she saw something, she needed us to investigate it.

The next early morning, Mira saw eight astronomical wrongs. Then, the ninth object Mira discovered, thinking it was a sheep’s puke, turned out to be exactly what we had been waiting for – – a meteorite, finally.

It was the largest piece of art that anyone had ever found. It was a lucky find. It landed on soft mud instead of the hard surface of a driveway and was in good shape.

Mira’s fragment, as we affectionately began calling it, is an exquisite piece of rock that weighs over 100 grams. On the surface, one can even see the marks of its journey through Earth’s atmosphere. The excitement that the entire team was feeling at the moment was unparalleled. We’re pretty sure this will be the defining moment of our lives.

The best part of our career. Aine O’Brien, Author provided

We were fortunate to be in a position to travel for vital work. Don’t look for it in lockdown time if it’s not in your area. If you’re local to the Winchcombe region and find something that you think could be a meteorite, there are some things you could do.


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