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   Inside Out - East Midlands: Monday January 10, 2005

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE METEORIC KIND

Meteorite Photo gallery
Reconstruction of a meteorite heading to earth
The Barwell meteorite is the largest to land in Britain
VIEW THE METEORITE GALLERY

If you thought that a giant meteorite hurtling to earth was just another predictable plot from the cinema then let Inside Out prove you wrong, as we visit the village of Barwell, Leicestershire - landing spot of the biggest meteorite to hit Britain.

Several years ago an asteroid travelling in the direction of earth was given a 1 in 300 chance of hitting and was considered a potential threat to earth.

Despite the media predictions of a possible "Armageddon", an impact large enough to cause any real threat to the earth is thankfully hundreds of years away.

The earth may not be facing a devastating cosmic impact in the near future but that doesn't stop around 500 pieces of space debris known as meteorites falling to earth each year.

One of the largest meteorites recorded in British history landed in the quiet and unsuspecting village of Barwell.

The Christmas that went with a bang

On Christmas Eve 1965, what may have been mistaken for the bright star in the east, was in fact a fireball sweeping across England, announcing the arrival of what was to become Britain's largest meteorite.

"All of a sudden there was this tremendous bang, a roaring noise - it shook the buildings - it was awful."
Eye witness Jim Andrews

"When it first entered the atmosphere it would have been something like the size of a desk," explains Kevin Yates from the National Space Centre.

"Most of that would have been burnt up on its way through the atmosphere, but a sizeable chunk would still have made it through to the surface though - probably about the size of a Christmas turkey."

The sight of this flaming "Christmas turkey" was followed by a sonic boom as the 4.5bn-year-old rock exploded into thousands of pieces.

Lucky escape

The village of Barwell near Leicester, was showered in thousands of pieces of what became known as the Christmas meteorite.

Reconstruction of the meteorite heading across Britain
Thankfully the meteorite didn't come down in any large cities

From fragments to large chunks Barwell became the target, yet amazingly no-one was injured.

Had the meteorite landed elsewhere, it could easily have been a different story as another Barwell local, Roger Platts explains.

"If it had hit a few seconds later and gone into Leicester at 4.15pm Christmas eve, it would have been a disaster."

Meteorite fever

As soon as the news broke, Barwell was inundated with meteorite hunters from around the world.

With museums offering money for every piece, the search was on - although not everyone was cashing in.

"Huge sums of money were being paid for fragments of this meteorite," remembers Annie Platts.

Patrick Moore
"They told me 'we have plenty of it so you can keep it for display as long as you make sure it comes to us in your will.'"
Patrick Moore

"Had we realised we could have been very rich people because we were stumbling around it all on our carol singing trip."

Annie wasn't the only one refraining exchanging meteorite for money.

Astronomer Patrick Moore arrived in Barwell as soon as he heard the news and on finding a lump of the meteorite took it promptly to the local museum.

Lucky find

Whilst some kept the meteorite fragments as a memento or to display, others like Harold Platt took a holiday from the proceeds of his find.

Harold was lucky enough to uncover one of the largest pieces of the meteorite which was given pride of place on top of his piano for over a week.

"We got £39.50 for the piece of the meteorite," recalls Harold's wife.

"We sold it to Leicester museum and went on holiday with the money."

Archive footage of meteorite hunters in Barwell
Meteorite hunters descended on the village of Barwell

Today collector Rob Elliot could take a holiday from the proceeds of his lump of meteorite too - several holidays in fact as his 1kg piece is now worth an impressive £20,000.

To collectors, pieces from the biggest British meteorite maybe worth thousands but to Kevin Yates they are priceless.

"It's quite special to get these time capsules from the beginning of our solar system - it can tell us a lot about the universe we live in."

Although there have been several meteorite hits in Britain since 1965, the Barwell meteorite remains the biggest and for the safety of the earth - let's hope it stays that way.

See also ...

Inside Out: East Midlands
Meteorite photo gallery

On bbc.co.uk
BBC Science and Nature: Space
BBC News: Woman hurt in meteorite strike
BBC News: Public invited to hunt meteorites
BBC The Sky at Night

On the rest of the web
Virtual solar system
National Space Centre

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Mrs Wendy Myshrall
I was born in Barwell in 1948, and lived there till 1975. My father was a GP in Barwell, and was doctor to the people whose drive the Meteorite fell into. I remember him telling the family about his patient who had been at the centre of the excitement. I cannot remember their names, but that they lived down the Common, at the bottom end of Chapel Street. They gave my father a piece of the Meteorite for a keepsake. My father kept it in his drinks cabinet, along with lots of other small ornaments. The Drinks cabinet and all contents are now in my possession, along with the meteorite piece!



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