Details
Perhaps the news of the Winchcombe meteorite shower of February 28, 2021 can best be summed up by a quote that appeared in a National Geographic piece this past March. Said the typically composed cosmochemist, Professor Sara Russell, a renowned meteorite scholar and Lead Researcher at the Planetary Materials Group at the Natural History Museum in London, “We’ve all just gone bananas!”

Winchcombe is an idyllic small market town of early medieval origin in the Cotswold Hills of Gloucestershire, about 100 miles west and slightly north of London. As described in the Meteoritical Bulletin (abridged):

A bright fireball was observed blazing across the sky, travelling from approximately West to East over the United Kingdom at 21:54 (UT) on 28 February 2021. The fireball was recorded by 14 stations operated by the six meteor camera networks comprising the UK Fireball Alliance. It was also caught on numerous dashboard and doorbell cameras. There were over 1000 eyewitness accounts from across the entire UK, as well as Ireland and northern Europe, with reports of a sonic boom in the local area. The following morning, the Wilcock family discovered a pile of dark stones and powder on their driveway in the town of Winchcombe, Gloucestershire. Material from the impact site was collected into plastic bags that morning.”

The Bulletin goes on to describe who found what in the ensuing days, and the name that comes up most often is that of Chris Casey, an intrepid meteorite hunter who found multiple specimens over the course of a week. Now offered in this sale are two of the specimens recovered by Mr. Casey.

Like Murchison, Cold Bokkeveld and Murray (lots 26, 31 and 46), Winchcombe is a CM2 meteorite (they contain small chondrules, CAIs and hydrated minerals in a fine-grained carbon-rich, charcoal-hued matrix). Many CM2s are also rich in prebiotic compounds and amino acids. Like many CM2 meteorites, the presence of organic compounds has been detected in Winchcombe by the sense of smell, where at least one stone was described as having a "compost-like" aroma.

Stated Dr. Mark Sephton, an astrobiologist at London’s Imperial College, “The organic molecules in the [sample of Winchcombe] are older than the Earth itself, and similar molecules would have rained down on the early Earth before life emerged. They may represent the first chemical steps towards life in the early solar system, and could be the leftover ingredients from the recipe of life.”

As is the case with other CM2s, Winchcombe contains CAIs (Calcium Aluminum Inclusions), the first materials to have formed in the solar nebula from which our solar system was created and the oldest matter humankind can see and touch.

As if Winchcombe wasn’t special enough, as a result of all of the camera angles of its descent, Winchcombe’s orbit around the sun has been precisely determined. Moreover, it evidences alteration from extraterrestrial water. Winchcombe is a breccia that contains both CM2 and CM1 lithologies — and CM1 meteorites are, apart from being the rarest variety known, among the most water-rich; they contain secondary minerals that could only have formed as a result of aqueous alteration. Winchcombe is very similar to the material retrieved from the Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 from the near-Earth asteroid 162173 Ryugu, which successfully returned to Earth with samples from the asteroid in December 2020.

Only 602 grams of Winchcombe was ever found — and 90% of this material is controlled by The Natural History Museum. This offering and lot 54 will be among the only opportunities to acquire a specimen of Winchcombe that isn’t a crumb.

Christie's would like to thank Dr. Alan E. Rubin at the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles for his assistance in preparing this catalogue.

17 x 16 x 9mm (0.66 x 0.66 x 0.33 in.) and 1.737g (8.5 carats)
Provenance
Collection of Christopher Casey
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