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Winchcombe meteorite's tumultuous space odyssey uncovered by nano-analysis
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Winchcombe meteorite's tumultuous space odyssey uncovered by nano-analysis
by Sophie Jenkins
London, UK (SPX) Apr 18, 2024

Detailed nano-analysis has revealed the Winchcombe meteorite underwent significant transformations involving water interaction and repeated fragmentations during its journey through space, finally resting in an English pasture in 2021.

The collaborative research effort included scientists from the UK, Europe, Australia, and the USA, employing a suite of advanced analytical methods typically reserved for samples retrieved by high-budget space missions. This analysis granted researchers unprecedented insights into the meteorite's history.

The team traced the Winchcombe meteorite's origins back to its initial form as an icy rock, evolving through stages of ice melt into a muddy composite, subjected to continual breakup and reformation. This meteorite is a prime example of CM carbonaceous chondrites-ancient space rocks altered by water from their parent asteroid, critical to understanding early solar system processes and possibly the origins of Earth's water.

Unusually for meteorites, the Winchcombe sample was located and collected within hours of its fall, a rapid recovery that preserved its condition and provided a unique research opportunity. Researchers, assisted by the public and amateur enthusiasts, pinpointed the impact site swiftly, securing the meteorite's integrity against atmospheric alteration.

In their recent publication in Meteoritics and Planetary Science, the team detailed their findings on the meteorite's complex breccia makeup, comprising various chondrite types each differently altered by water. Their use of techniques like transmission electron microscopy and atom probe tomography highlighted the minute and varied alterations within the meteorite's grains.

Key discoveries include an unexpectedly high presence of carbonate minerals, suggesting a richer carbon content than previously recognized and offering clues about carbonate veins observed on asteroids like Bennu by NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission.

Dr. Luke Daly, lead researcher and recovery team leader from the University of Glasgow, described the meteorite as a jigsaw puzzle of fragmented rocks, reassembled over millennia. The team's findings elucidate the intricate processes of water-mediated alteration in space, painting a detailed picture of the meteorite's tumultuous history.

Dr. Leon Hicks from the University of Leicester emphasized the rarity of such detailed terrestrial analysis outside of direct space mission returns, paralleling the significance of Moon rocks and Ryugu asteroid samples. Co-author Dr. Martin Suttle from the Open University highlighted the pristine condition of the fragments, which acted as tiny time capsules revealing the meteorite's extensive history of formation and alteration.

Dr. Diane Johnson from Cranfield University expressed satisfaction with the project's contributions to understanding the early solar system's formation through such in-depth analysis of space-born materials.

The study is part of broader efforts by the Winchcombe science team consortium and the UK Cosmochemistry Network, under the coordination of the UK Fireball Alliance.

Research Report:Brecciation at the grain scale within the lithologies of the Winchcombe Mighei-like carbonaceous chondrite

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