New research on the meteorite that crashed onto a driveway in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire in February 2021 has discovered the presence of organic compounds that hold the secrets to the origin of life.
The new research was led by Dr. Queenie Chan, from the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London. The organic matter found only requires water for a chemical reaction to occur that would convert molecules into amino acids and proteins.
The preliminary analysis shows that it contained the first-ever extra-terrestrial water detected in a meteorite that had fallen to Earth.
Now, the new analysis suggests the Winchcombe meteorite may be a new class of weak meteorite that has never been studied before. According to Dr. Chan, “meteorite fall happens all year round, however, what makes this meteorite fall so unique is that this is the first meteorite to have been observed by numerous eyewitnesses, recorded, and recovered in the U.K. in the last 30 years.”
“Winchcombe belongs to a rare type of carbonaceous meteorite which typically contains a rich inventory of organic compounds and water,” Chan continued. “The first Winchcombe meteorite stone was recovered within 12 hours of the fireball observation event and properly curated to restrict any terrestrial contamination. This allowed us to study the organic signature truly essential to the meteorite itself.”
Chan said it was “an honor to be leading the team on the organic analysis of the first-ever successful carbonaceous meteorite recovery in the United Kingdom.”
“Studying the organic inventory of the Winchcombe meteorite provided us with a window into the past, how simple chemistry kick-started the origin of life at the birth of our solar system,” she continued. “Discovering these life’s precursor organic molecules allowed us to comprehend the fall of similar material to the surface of the Earth, prior to the emergence of life on our own planet.
Dr. Chan and colleagues’ paper was published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.