Space Fireball Fragments May Be Littering British Countryside

A fireball from a few days ago lit up the sky in regions as far apart as the United Kingdom to the … [+]

The hunt is on for possible pieces of space rock in Gloucestershire, United Kingdom — but local authorities are asking people not to go hunting far from their homes due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions.

And no, this new space rock search has nothing to do with the Apophis “god of chaos” flyby that will happen safely later today (Friday, March 5); rather, it’s a much smaller rock causing all of the fuss.

Normally, meteor enthusiasts would be fanning across the countryside in search of fragments of the fireball, which broke up high in the atmosphere late Sunday (Feb. 28). Local observers say there’s a high probability that some small pieces made it safely to the ground, but they say any searches must comply with quarantine protocol.

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Nevertheless, the UK Meteor Network has been asking any locals northeast of Gloucester to keep an eye out for new rocks, and tweeting advice on what to do next. “Have you found a strange dark rock on the ground? It could be a #meteorite! Mark location, take picture and send them to us please,” it tweeted earlier this week.

“Dr. Katherine Joy of the University of Manchester says ideally photograph it in place, note the GPS location, do not touch with magnet or your hands,” the network added in another tweet. “Pick it up in a clean plastic bag or clean aluminum foil if possible.”

This is the approximate area where fragments of a meteorite may have fallen, in a region northeast … [+]

Meteor viewings are a common sight on Earth as small pieces of space rock slam into the atmosphere and burn up. Situations where meteors actually survive the hard journey and fall to the Earth are far more rare, but those space fragments that land on the ground are known as meteorites.

Meteorites give scientists crucial clues about how our solar system were formed, since fragments of rocks have been floating around our solar system for billions of years, even before the planets came together. These studies are also a great complement to the sample return missions ongoing from asteroids Ryugu (accomplished by Japan last year) and Bennu (happening under NASA’s purview in 2023).

About 55 tons of material from space enter the Earth each year, according to a report from The Guardian, but it’s been a long drought since anyone in the United Kingdom was able to find a fallen meteorite. The last fall was in 1991 from a village called Glatton, near Peterborough.

It’s hard to find rocks in normal countryside settings as they tend to blend in with the surrounding landscape, which is why researchers (during non-pandemic times) try to get out to places like Antarctica periodically to search out dark meteorites in the surrounding white ice.

I’ve been writing about space exploration since 2004. I began full-time freelancing about this topic in September 2012, after working as a business reporter, copy editor

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