Ivuna meteorite stored in pure nitrogen

The Museum owns the world's largest Ivuna meteorite fragment in a public collection, which is kept in a nitrogen atmosphere to preserve its ancient chemical content

Museum to display rare meteorite from solar system's birth

The satsuma-sized Ivuna meteorite contains a record of primordial material from 4.6 billion years ago - around the same time as the formation of the sun and planets.

The Natural History Museum will display an extremely rare meteorite fragment at the free after-hours Science Uncovered event on Friday 25 September.

The Ivuna meteorite contains a remarkably pristine record of the building blocks of the solar system, including water (up to 20% of its weight) and other primitive chemical compounds that shed light on the birth of the sun and planets.

Of the 50,000 known meteorites, it is one of only five that shares roughly the same ratio of chemical elements as the sun, with the exception of hydrogen and helium.

The Ivuna fragment will be on display along with the first public fossil casts from Homo naledi - the recently discovered ancient human relative - at Science Uncovered, part of European Researchers' Night.

Ivuna meteorite

Ancient meteorites like Ivuna could have brought the very first water and organic matter to Earth by smashing into the young planet billions of years ago

 

A striking specimen

The Ivuna meteorite fell to Earth in Tanzania in 1938, and was subsequently split into a number of samples. The Natural History Museum owns the largest fragment held in a public collection, using it as a key part of the Museum's research into the formation of the solar system.

Having hit Earth fairly recently compared to similar meteorites, Ivuna's composition has changed remarkably little since its formation around 4.5 billion years ago - before the Earth existed.

According to Dr Ashley King, a postdoctoral researcher at the Museum, this means the chemistry of the Ivuna meteorite is very similar to the primordial matter from which the sun and planets formed.

'Our piece of Ivuna is stored in pure nitrogen within a sealed chamber to keep it pristine. Studying it tells us about the original building blocks of the solar system, and how these materials have evolved over the last 4.5 billion years', says King.

Scientists have suggested that ancient meteorites like Ivuna could have brought the very first water and organic matter to Earth by smashing into the young planet billions of years ago.

Recent research from the Museum's Meteorite Group looked into the minerals stored in these meteorites, and demonstrated the high water content of the Ivuna specimen in particular.

Museum scientists from the Mineral and Planetary Sciences Division, headed by Professor Sara Russell, will be on-hand to talk about the Ivuna meteorite at the event on 25 September.   

Science Uncovered

The Museum's Science Uncovered event will display over 1,000 specimens from the collection, including the first fossil casts of the newly discovered ancient human relative Homo naledi.

The discovery of the human species was made in a remote cave location in South Africa's Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, and scientists say Homo naledi's unique combination of prehistoric and modern traits could shake up our understanding of our human lineage.

Multiple views of Homo naledi skull and jaw fragments

Multiple views of Homo naledi skull and jaw fragments. The skull of this species shows some primitive features, such as a small brain volume. © Berger et al (2015). eLife http://elifesciences.org/content/4/e09560

 

The evening will also feature a live link-up to the European Space Agency, with scientist Jorge Vago discussing the mission to find life on Mars, and a session with palaeontologist Paul Barrett on how new technologies are helping Museum scientists piece together the lives of dinosaurs.

Discover over 1,000 specimens, meet more than 350 scientists, and join in with hundreds of activities including interactive science stations, debates and behind-the-scenes tours at Science Uncovered on Friday 25 September.

Related information