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Did the Great British Meteorite hunt find any new meteorites?

Updated Monday, 9th August 2004

The Great British Meteorite hunt is over, but did it turn up any extra-planetary rock? Matthew Genge reports back

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Matthew Genge

It seems that for many years people have been digging up and tripping over mysterious rocks all around the UK. Sometimes the circumstances have been far from mysterious, an unusually shaped piece of metal dug up whilst weeding or a stone on the lawn that we are quite sure wasn't there the day before.

Occasionally, however, the circumstances are much more spectacular, the lady woken up by a loud bang in the middle of the night only to find a stone on her third floor balcony, or the farmer who swears he saw a fireball hit the ground late at night whilst assisting in the birth of a calf, and even the man knocked off his bicycle by what must have been a falling meteorite. Over the summer and autumn of 2004 the Great British Meteorite Hunt has dealt with these enquiries and hundreds more.

You might think that spectacular eye-witness accounts are bound to be meteorites, but alas no. A stone that appears on a balcony would appear to have fallen from the sky but when it turns out to be a mineral-lined geode, something very terrestrial indeed, one may just have to accept that it fell from a balcony above, or perhaps was even thrown from below.

Perhaps the hardest events to explain are when people see a fireball land in a field, or behind the house, or in the neighbours garden, but the specimen presented is a perfectly ordinary and innocent terrestrial rock.

Having observed a fireball it is quite understandable that they are convinced of the authenticity of their specimen, sometimes to the point that an expert opinion is of little consequence. What probably explains such events is that it is very difficult to judge the distance of a fireball, it can be 70 miles away and look as if it is disappearing over the top of the house or behind a hedge. In fact if it is a fireball then it is quite probably more than 20 miles up in the air. Sometimes there may even be a more mundane explanation. They saw it fall and then picked up the wrong rock!

There has been a tremendous response to the Great British Meteorite Hunt with over 1000 people submitting the details of their specimens to the website. Of these around 100 were examined further as possible meteorites. Only one, however, so far has been confirmed as a meteorite and, embarrassingly enough for the Great British Meteorite Hunt, it fell in Ireland!

So there are still only 20 British meteorites, and this does make us the bottom of the European meteorite league. We do know, however, that there are meteorites out there, may be as many as one per square kilometer, just waiting to be found.

But that, unfortunately in our rainy climate, is the real challenge. Perhaps we'll have to wait for the next British meteorite to come crashing through someone's roof, however, at the end of the day does it really matter where they land? With meteorites it's where come from that counts!

 

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