The funding has enabled the project team, led by Dr Ashley King from London's Natural History Museum, to use X-rays and learn about how the meteorite was formed.
It has also enabled the Natural History Museum to invest in state-of-the-art curation facilities and supported time-sensitive mineralogical and organic analyses in specialist laboratories at several leading UK institutions.
Dr King, a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum, said:
“Winchcombe is the first meteorite fall to be recovered in the UK for 30 years and the first ever carbonaceous chondrite to be recovered in our country. STFC’s funding is aiding us with this unique opportunity to discover the origins of water and life on Earth. Through the funding, we have been able to invest in state-of-the-art equipment that has contributed to our analysis and research into the Winchcombe meteorite.”
In Plymouth, that work includes analysing small samples of Winchcombe to determine both the fine and coarse-grained mineralogy of the meteorite.
Preliminary results of chemical and micro-structural analyses of the different textures in Winchcombe have shown in-tact chondrules, metals, and mineral fragments, all held within the fine-grained matrix, which represent some of the earliest materials to form in the Solar System.
The work has been carried out by Dr Natasha Stephen, Lecturer in Advanced Analysis (Earth & Planetary Sciences), and PEMC technicians Dr Jennifer Mitchell and Lorelei Robertson.
They have also been supported by planetary science postgraduate student Francesca Willcocks, and they are all using the cutting edge electron microscopes within PEMC to conduct the investigation.
Dr Natasha Stephen during the search for fragments of the Winchcombe meteorite
Dr Stephen, Director of the Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre, has spent more than a decade analysing Martian meteorites and has been on meteorite hunting expeditions all over the world. She added:
“Collecting meteorites in the field is always special, but doing it in your home country is even more so. Now we have a piece of Winchcombe to analyse right here in Plymouth. It’s the first time we’ve had a British meteorite in the lab, so everyone is incredibly excited and keen to be a part of the initial analyses. The small planetary geology group we have here are all helping, thanks to STFC funding, so it’s been a fantastic catalyst for a new study bringing together academics, technicians and students.”
The above images, from left, show:
- A resin-mounted sample of the Winchcombe meteorite. This whole block is placed inside the scanning electron microscope and imaged non-destructively using electron beams and X-rays
- Live data on our JEOL 7001F scanning electron microscope. Each colour represents a different chemical element, analysed using X-rays, showing a combined chemistry image on the left monitor and individual element X-ray maps on the right monitor
- The Plymouth team analysing samples of the Winchcombe meteorite - Dr Natasha Stephen (front), postgraduate student Cesca Willcocks (middle) and technical specialist Dr Jennifer Mitchell (back)
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