The 'fireball' meteorite that lit up the night sky before landing in a Cotswolds driveway could be how life started on Earth and contain ET secrets, scientists have said.
Astonished skywatchers in Gloucestershire reported seeing a trail across the skies on February 28 before a sleeping family were woken with a massive thud in Winchcombe.
Fragments of the 300g space rock, the first to be recovered in the UK for 30 years, have now been sent to the Natural History Museum.
It has now emerged that the meterorite is a rare carbonaceous chondrite – which researchers recently discovered could hold the key to how life first formed in the universe.
No other known rocks on Earth or the Solar system share its ability to synthesise organic compounds, a study found in 2016.
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This ability is key to prebiotic chemistry – conditions needed for the emergence of life, the Spanish National Research Council researchers said.
A year later another study said life on Earth began somewhere between 3.7 and 4.5 billion years ago, after meterorites splashed down and leached essential elements into "warm little ponds".
The researchers said the alternative theory involving hypothermal vents in the deep ocean was less likely as they estimated the probability of the building blocks of life being created by carbonaceous chondrites.
In the first study, the researchers described chondrites as a "legacy fossil" from when planets are formed.
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Following tests on ones found by NASA, researcher Carles Moyano, from Spain's Institute of Space Science, said: "We could be looking at the discovery of the key chemical processes involved in the origins of organic material in the Universe. These phases of hydration possibly marked the early stages of asteroids and comets."
Scientists have said the UK space rock could provide valuable insight into how our Solar System looked as it formed more than four billion years ago.
Professor Sara Russell, a researcher who studies meteorite at the museum, told Gloucestershire Live it was one of only 51 of its kind that had ever fallen from the sky.
She said: “This is really exciting.
“There are about 65,000 known meteorites in the entire world, and of those only 51 of them are carbonaceous chondrites that have been seen to fall like this one."
The Natural History Museum expects it to be known as the Winchcombe meteorite, in honour of its landing place.
Dr Ashley King, a meteorite researcher at the Natural History Museum, said: “For somebody who didn't really have an idea what it actually was, the finder did a fantastic job in collecting it.
“He bagged most of it up really quickly on Monday morning, perhaps less than 12 hours after the actual event. He then kept finding bits in his garden over the next few days.”
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