Extraterrestrial water and the basic components of DNA was found among the contents of a rare meteorite that landed in the UK last year after a journey of nearly 300,000 years.
The Winchcombe meteorite It was the first of its kind to be recovered in the UK when it hit its namesake city of Gloucestershire in 2021. Its quick collection by the public and scientists ensured it was preserved in near-pristine condition, allowing researchers to investigate material brought from outer space.
New study Published in the journal Science Advances, supports the suggestion that meteorites brought important molecules to Earth that helped pave the way for the evolution of life.
“The Winchcombe meteorite is incredibly well preserved,” Dr Ashley King, who co-led the study and is an expert on meteorites at the Natural History Museum (NHM), said in a statement. It contains all the ingredients that can begin to create a suitable environment for life to develop within.
The composition of its waters, on the basis of hydrogen isotopes, is very similar to that of the earth’s oceans, while the amino acids, used to build DNA, are also inside it.”
“We know it wasn’t contaminated, so this research adds weight to theories that carbonaceous asteroids were important in bringing these particles to Earth after it formed.”
While the Winchcombe meteorite may have fallen to Earth in GloucestershireIts origins are more than 300 million kilometers away. The number of cameras that captured the meteorite’s fall to Earth allowed scientists to trace its trajectory back to its original location in the asteroid belt.
For millions of years, the meteorite was part of a larger asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. shows evidence of exposure to a solar wind coming from the sun, Which indicates that it spent some of that time on the surface of the asteroid.
Less than 300,000 years ago, all of this will change when A collision in the asteroid belt cut through the rock and threw the meteorite into near-Earth space. at the time of its formation, Its weight is estimated at about 30 kilograms.
Soon, it ended up in an orbit 116 million kilometers from the Sun, about 300 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
“We found that it didn’t pass particularly close to the Sun compared to other asteroids, and that He had only been traveling for 300,000 yearsAnd it’s really fast,” Ashley explains.
“However, because Winchcombe is a really fragile type of meteorite known as a carbonaceous chondrite, it won’t make it to Earth if it doesn’t get there quickly, and It will fall in the sun or it will break.”
Winchcombe’s orbit was not perfectly circular, which meant that it was sometimes closer to the sun and sometimes farther away. At the edge of its orbit, it was the Earth’s closest distance from the sun, On February 28, 2021, the two bodies finally made contact.
Caught in Earth’s gravity, the meteorite exited orbit and streaked across the sky as it fell to Earth. It traveled at about 13.5 kilometers per second as it fell, which is about 15 times faster than a rifle bullet, but still the slowest speed on record for any such meteor.
Most of its mass burned up as it passed through the atmosphere, fragmenting it into pieces and raining down on and around the town of Winchcombe. Finally, about half a kilo of the meteorite was recoveredwhich is close to the estimated mass of the fragments that would have survived.
“We’ve been lucky with Winchcombe in many ways,” Ashley adds. “The UK should expect two or three small meteorites each year, but these often land somewhere they can’t get to.”
“The fact that it fell on a very clear night, and in an area monitored by cameras, allowed us to quickly locate it. It was also a dry week, ensuring that it could be packed quickly without being too disturbed by the Earth’s atmosphere.”
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