Meteorites may be just north of Cheltenham

Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent
@BBCAmoson Twitter

Published
media captionThe meteor lit up the sky over Somerset

The hunt is on for meteorite fragments that are likely to have fallen to Earth over England on Sunday night.

Many people across Northern Europe saw a fireball in the sky shortly before 22:00 GMT, and the streak of light was also caught on special cameras.

Scientists think some pieces will have survived the intense heat of atmospheric entry and hit the ground.

A computer model that analysed the camera data suggests the probable site of impact is just north of Cheltenham.

"We can track the fireball really well, but the 'black magic' starts when it goes dark - when the light goes out and it still has another 10-20km to reach the ground," explained Dr Ashley King from the UK Fireball Alliance (UKFAll) and London's Natural History Museum (NHM).

"Strong winds can blow the object off course of where you think it's going to land, and that's what we're working on now. But, yes, somewhere north of Cheltenham, out towards Stow-on-the-Wold," he told BBC News.

image captionThe camera data indicates a favourable fall zone

The fireball produced a sonic boom as it hurtled across the southern England sky. Eyewitness accounts describe the object breaking up into several defined streaks just before going dark.

Any fragments that made it to the ground will be small, smaller than an orange, say, and are likely to be dark and shiny.

Anyone who finds what they think might be a meteorite is asked to photograph it in situ, noting the GPS co-ordinates from a phone, if that's possible.

The object should then be bagged without direct handling. And the absolute no-no: do not put a magnet near the object. This could destroy important information needed to study the rock.

"We've learned over the years that most meteorites carry a kind of intrinsic magnetic record within them from when they were in space," said Dr King.

"We can actually study that and learn about where these things came from and how they formed. But if you put a magnet on the object, it's a little bit like wiping your credit card with a magnet. We lose all of that information."

image copyrightUKMON
image captionThe object produced a sonic boom

Some of the trajectory work from the camera data has already suggested the object originated in the outer asteroid belt, which is between Mars and Jupiter.

"Most of the asteroids further away from the Sun tend to be these carbonaceous type that have got water and volatile materials in them but until we actually get our hands on some fragments, we can't say for certain," Dr King told BBC News.

Scientists from the UKFAll and meteorite experts from the universities of Glasgow and Manchester and the NHM are interested to hear from anyone who thinks they may have found something of interest.

Even if you just have a photo or video of the event, the researchers request you upload and share it.

Between 10 and 20 meteorites are estimated to fall to the ground in the UK each year, but it's rare that any fragments are actually picked up.

The last recovered fall was in 1991 - the so called Glatton Meteorite, because it fell in the village of Glatton near Peterborough.

Mr Arthur Pettifor was tending his onions in his garden when a 10cm rock fell into his hedge.

image captionMr Pettifor would show off the Glatton Meteorite at the village fete