Stargazing Live: The Rowton Meteorite
Last week we were taken deep into the bowels of the museum to meet Dr Caroline Smith who is curator of meteorites. Dr Smith often finds herself in remote parts of Australia or Africa scouring desert sands for meteorites to bring back to the museum. Why the desert? Well a meteorite could fall anywhere but it's obviously easier to spot a rock from outer space on an empty desert landscape than if it lands in dense jungle.
Dr Smith's top tips for telling if something is a rock or a meteorite are as follows. Is it strangely out of place? Is it much heavier than you were expecting? And is it magnetic?
Many meteorites are made of iron so they are magnetic which of course your average earth-rock is not. And that brings us to the reason for our visit, the Rowton Meterorite. Named after the village in Shropshire where it fell in 1876.
Having used a fridge magnet from the museum shop I can attest the Rowton meteorite is definitely magnetic. It's also one of only 1100 meteorites in human history that people have observed falling from the sky. And one of very few to have been observed in the UK. As it fell it probably lost about 80-90% of its mass but it's still the size of a large easter egg.
It's an extremely important object for the museum's collection and other collections too. As you might have noticed from the picture samples have been taken from the meteorite and sent off to other museums in Europe and America.
Although "witnessed" meteorites remain rare they are actually becoming slightly more common as the massive increase in cctv means some are now being caught on camera.
And if you would like to learn more about meteorites and astronomy in general then there are a series of Stargazing Live events (many free) taking place all this week. Details here.