Meteorite hunters urged to keep their eyes on the skies
One year on from the first successful recovery of a meteorite to land on British soil in three decades, people across the country are being urged to keep their eyes on the skies.
Dr Luke Daly of the University of Glasgow led the search party that tracked and retrieved the largest piece of the Winchcombe meteorite that landed in Gloucestershire in March last year.
He is a member of the UK Fireball Alliance (UKFAll), a collaboration between the UK’s six meteor and fireball camera networks. The UKFAll partners have cameras placed around the country which can spot the entry of fireballs.
Now, Dr Daly is calling for volunteers across the UK to get more of the cameras which made the recovery of the Winchcombe meteorite possible. Analysis of the images from those cameras allowed scientists to predict where the Winchcombe meteorite fell.
However, there are still areas of the skies across the UK which are not well-covered by the camera networks, and UKFAll is appealing for volunteers to help set up their own meteor cameras to help record fireballs as they appear.
To fill in the gaps, members of the public, schools, universities and other organisations are encouraged to join the UK Meteor Observation Network (UKMON) and install a meteor camera looking into one of the coverage gaps.
Dr Daly, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, said: “The recovery of the Winchcombe meteorite was a historic event and I’m immensely proud to have been a part of it. It wouldn’t have been possible without the UK Fireball Alliance’s cameras and the dedication of its volunteers.
“One year on, analysis of the Winchcombe samples undertaken by colleagues up and down the country has uncovered a vast amount of information.
“We’ve learned about how the meteorite was formed, the conditions which shaped it, and how space rocks of this type might have helped bring water to the early Earth.
“We expect that meteorites like this impact the UK at least once a year, but the last meteorite to be found in the UK before Winchcombe was in 1991. As camera technology improves and becomes more affordable, it’s easier than ever for people to do get involved to help scan the skies for fireballs.
“It's a real shame that right now we don't have complete coverage in Scotland, particularly over Scotland's dark sky parks which have ideal viewing conditions for everything from fireballs to faint meteors. It would be fantastic to get more cameras looking at our night sky up here and we're currently missing a lot of these spectacular fireballs and the awesome science they herald. A year on from Winchcombe, we’d love for more people to get involved and help us locate and recover meteorites wherever they land across Britain.”
While one piece of the Winchcombe meteorite was quickly discovered on a local family’s driveway, Dr Daly and colleagues spent days searching local fields for other pieces. Mira Ihasz, a volunteer in the search party, eventually found a chunk weighing 152 grams in a sheep field on March 6, 2021 – the largest piece of the meteorite to be recovered.
Mira said: “I don’t think I’ll ever get over the excitement of seeing that piece of rock lying on the grass and calling over the others to verify that it was a meteorite. The thought that it had spent millions of years in space before falling to Earth in a field full of sheep poo, where I was the first human being to ever lay eyes on it, is incredible.
“Being part of that search party was such a thrill, and I’d love to be able to do it again the next time a camera network spots a fireball. I’d recommend that anyone who has an interest in space signs up and gets their own cameras to join the network – they could be the next person to help find a pristine piece of space rock and do their part to help us learn more about our Solar System.”
Richard Kacerek, UKFAll member and founder of UKMON, added: “Anyone looking to set up a new meteor detection camera in Scotland, or anywhere in the UK, should join the growing UKMON community of amateur astronomers. You can then choose to get one of our pre-made base kits for £185 or try to assemble the station yourself. There are morethan 120 cameras in the UK already, but our coverage in Scotland could be improved, especially if we want to help recover meteorites,”
First published: 4 March 2022