Space rock reveals secrets of the Solar System

Big Bang: The meteorite moved so fast it sent a sonic boom across southern England. © Darryl Pitt

Can we learn all about the universe without leaving Earth? Scientists say a meteorite that landed in England last month could hold ancient clues about how our planet was created.

What’s happening

On the night of 28 February, a fireball flew over the UK. People looked up as a huge boom seemed to shake the sky.

This was no ordinary shooting star. The space rock had survived the journey through the Earth’s atmosphere. And it was heading straight for one family’s driveway.

Find out more

When Hannah Wilcock looked out of the window the next day, she saw pieces of black, sparkly rock splattered on the floor.

She knew it was unusual: it had burnt a hole in the tarmac drive.

A team of expert space rock hunters soon arrived on the scene. They confirmed it was a meteorite – the first found in the UK in 30 years.

Experts say it holds priceless clues about the universe. For them, it is “a glimpse into what the Solar System looked like as it was forming some 4.6 billion years ago”.

As they study it, scientists could use it to find out more about how Earth was created. It could even show us how likely it is that similar planets exist somewhere else in space.

Can we learn about the universe without leaving Earth?

Some say…

Yes! With finds like the meteorite, we have been able to unlock some of the greatest secrets of creation. Telescopes can discover whole worlds we would never be able to reach. They can find out about the surface of stars and planets far away. As technology keeps getting better, there is no need for us to travel in space ourselves.

Others think…

No. The universe is infinite. There will always be more for us to discover. The meteorite and telescopes help us learn. But nothing compares to going into space and seeing things for ourselves. We know far more about the Moon now we have been to it. The same will be true for Mars and anywhere else humans can visit.

You Decide

  1. Would you rather discover a distant world in a telescope or stand on the Moon?

Activities

  1. Using recycled objects, create a model of the Solar System that shows at scale how far away each planet is from the sun.

Some People Say...

“It’s humanity’s destiny to explore the universe.”

Story Musgrave, American astronaut

What do you think?

Word Watch

Boom
A noise like an explosion that happens when an object travels faster than the speed of sound. Fighter jets often create sonic booms overhead.
Shooting star
Meteoroids are objects in space that can range from grains of dust to huge rocks. When they enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they burn up. This is a meteor – what we see as a shooting star. When a meteor survives a trip through the atmosphere and lands, it is called a meteorite.
Atmosphere
The blanket of gases around Earth that protect us and keep the temperature regular.
Space rock hunters
The UK Fireball Alliance is a team of people whose job it is to find and collect meteorites after they land.
30 years
The last time a meteorite was found was 1991.
Priceless
Something so precious it is beyond a price.
Glimpse
A quick, hurried look at something.
Solar System
The Sun and the objects whose movement it controls.
Infinite
Something that goes on forever or never stops.

Subjects

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