H. Wold Cottage meteorite

The UK’s earliest surviving meteorite. Seen to fall in Wold Cottage, Yorkshire, on 13 December 1795. Around 4.6 billion years old.

UK’s first meteorite

Wold Cottage meteorite

The earliest surviving meteorite seen to land in the UK and one of the specimens that confirmed meteorites fall from space. It formed during the birth of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

The landing

Drawing of the monument marking the landing site.

Landowner Edward Topham erected a monument marking the landing site.

On 13 December 1795, ploughman John Shipley looked up from his work on the Wold Cottage estate in Yorkshire to see this stone fall a few metres from where he stood. Sending soil flying, it embedded itself in the chalk rock beneath.

Turbulent theories

Erupting volcanoe

A year earlier, German physicist Ernst Chladni began to record similar events. He was ridiculed for suggesting the stones fell from space. The preferred theory was they were blasted into the air by volcanoes. But with no active volcanoes in Yorkshire, how could the Wold Cottage landing be explained?

Extra-terrestrial evidence

Trail of a meteoroid in space. Once it hits Earth it’s called a meteorite.

Trail of a meteoroid in space. Once it hits Earth it’s called a meteorite.

The Wold Cottage stone prompted the first serious investigation into the origins of meteorites. Influential scientist Joseph Banks began to doubt the volcano theory and so he commissioned a worldwide comparison of stones from the sky.

The results proved Chladni right. The stones were very similar to each other but were like nothing found on Earth. They must have had the same origin: space.

As old as time

Drawing of two asteroids smashing together.

We now know that the Wold Cottage meteorite was a piece of debris sent careering to Earth after two asteroids smashed together.

Asteroids were formed during the birth of the solar system about 4.568 billion years ago from a cloud of dust, gas and ice. Most orbit the sun in the asteroid belt between the planets Jupiter and Mars.

Popular demand

Engravings of meteorites by James Sowerby, with Wold Cottage at the centre.

Engravings of meteorites by James Sowerby, with Wold Cottage at the centre.

There was such public demand to see this stone that private museum owner James Sowerby bought it to display. In 1835, a relative of Sowerby’s sold it to this Museum.

We now look after one of the most diverse and important collections of meteorites in the world.

Cosmo-chemistry

Thin section of a meteorite

We can find out what happened during the meteorite’s lifetime by slicing it thinner than a human hair and looking at the crystals.

The meteorite has had slices removed for study. Its chemistry can tell us how the different materials it is made from were mixed up during the formation of the solar system.

Museum scientists are also using meteorites such as this to work out when the first solid objects formed, which became the building blocks of the asteroids and planets we see today.

Around the Museum

Gems in The Vault.

Visit The Vault in the Green Zone, to see some of the world’s finest crystals, gems, metals and meteorites.