Extraterrestrial water was found for the first time in a meteorite that fell to Earth

Extraterrestrial water has been found for the first time in a meteorite that fell in the UK.

The Winchcombe meteorite, which crashed into a gorge in Gloucestershire last February, is also believed to hold clues about the source of water in Earth’s vast oceans.

Ashley King, a researcher in the Planetary Materials Collection at the British Museum of Natural History, said 12% of the sample consisted of water, and as the least polluted sample collected, it offered a lot of insight.

He told the British Science Festival: “The composition of that water is very similar to that of the water in Earth’s oceans.

It’s really good evidence that asteroids and objects like Winchcombe have made a very important contribution to Earth’s oceans.”

Dr King also confirmed that Winckcombe was the first time a meteorite containing extraterrestrial water – albeit trapped in minerals – had fallen in the UK.

He added that because of how quickly the 0.5 kg (1 pound) meteorite could recover – in about 12 hours – it was not contaminated with water and material on Earth.

He said, “We always try to match the composition of water meteorites and other extraterrestrial materials with the composition of water on Earth.

“For most meteorites, our challenge is that they are only contaminated, whereas with Winchcombe we really know they weren’t really polluted, so it’s good evidence.”

The Winchcombe meteorite on display at the Natural History Museum in London (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Dr. King continued: “One of the big questions we have in planetary science is where did the water come from on Earth? And one of the obvious places is either through comets that have loads and amounts of ice in them, or through asteroids.”

“There is always a debate – were comets the main source, were asteroids the main source?”

Explaining that the data from the missions to comets indicate that they are not a good match for water on Earth, he added: “The composition of the water at Wincombe is much better, and this means that the asteroids – the carbonaceous asteroids – were probably the main source of water for the inner solar system, to Earth.”

Dr King continued: “We have a hint that some asteroids match up well with Earth.

“But now we have a really new meteorite that we know hasn’t been modified, and it confirms the same story.”

The meteorite, an extremely rare species called a carbonaceous chondrite, smashed into a gorge in Winckcombe, Gloucestershire, last February (Natural History Museum/PA Trustees)

Speaking at De Montfort University, which hosts the festival, Dr. King said analysis showed the meteorite came from an asteroid somewhere near Jupiter.

Formed about 4.6 billion years ago, its journey back to Earth took about 300,000 years.

There are approximately 65,000 meteorites known on Earth.

This is the first known carbonaceous chondrite found in the UK, and the first meteorite discovered in the UK 30 years ago.