A large glass jar, lit from above, containing the meteorite. It is black, and you can see that while parts of its surface are relatively smooth, others are pock marked with holes.

This is the first meteorite that was observed falling to the ground and then recovered in the UK for 30 years, and it could give clues as to the origin of life ©The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

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Winchcombe meteorite to go on display at the Museum

A piece of the Winchcombe meteorite, from the first meteorite fall to have been recovered in the UK for 30 years, is to be put on display at the Museum.

It will be displayed along with a piece of the newly described mineral kernowite from Cornwall, which Museum scientists described for the first time in 2020. 

The Museum will display part of the meteorite which blazed through the sky and touched down in the little town of Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, in February 2021.

The 103-gram fragment of black rock has been described as looking like a little piece of coal, but it is an extraordinarily exciting discovery. Found in a field by Mira Ihasz and a team from the University of Glasgow, it dates to the birth of the solar system around 4.5 billion years ago, when our own planet was only just beginning to form from the swirl of dust and gas.

Not only is it rare for a meteorite to be recovered from the UK, but the type of meteorite is known as carbonaceous chondrite - out of 65,000 known meteorites in the world, only around 1,000 are of this specific type.  

Staff admire the Winchcombe meteorite into its new display case in The Vault

Hannah Wilcock, a member of one of the families donating a piece of the Winchcombe meteorite, admires its new display case in The Vault © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Dr Helena Bates, Interim Curator of Meteorites at the Museum, says, 'This is the first meteorite to fall and be recovered in the UK for 30 years, and the first meteorite of its type to ever be recovered in the UK.

'The meteorite has an incredible four-and-a-half-billion year history, and looking at it is like peering back in time to the beginning of our solar system. Despite being quite an unassuming piece of black rock, I hope when people see it they remember they are looking at something that is probably older than our planet.

'It truly is a success for the future of planetary science and having the joy of looking after it is probably the most exciting thing that will ever happen in my career.'

Two piece of mineral being positioned by a gloved hand. On the left, the mineral is bright blue, while the one on the right is green.

The new mineral kernowite (right) is on display next to a closely related mineral lirconite (left) ©The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

New species of mineral from Cornwall

Alongside the meteorite will be another new discovery, a piece of the mineral kernowite.

This emerald-green mineral was first described by Museum scientists in December 2020 from specimens that had been collected some 220 years ago. 

Only around 100 new minerals are described every year, and typically only three or four of these will be from the UK. This makes the discovery of kernowite particularly important.

It is currently known only from one mine in Cornwall, Wheal Gorland, that was operational between 1790 and 1909. The mine has since been demolished and built upon, meaning that researchers can never return to this exact location. 

296 differnet coloured diamonds each on idividual mounts arranged in a pyramidal shape.

The Aurora Pyramid of Hope showcases the extraordinary diversity of colours that can be found in naturally occurring diamonds  ©The Trustees of The Natural History Museum, London

Treasures in The Vault

The meteorite and mineral will be displayed in The Vault (in the Minerals gallery) next to another new acquisition for the Museum, an extraordinary 242-carat calcite gemstone. Calcite is rarely seen as a gemstone of this size and quality. This particular specimen has been cut expertly, creating a stunning iridescence as the light entering the stone is split into a delicate spectrum of rainbow colours.

Also on display in The Vault is the Aurora Pyramid of Hope, a visitor favourite. This collection of 296 naturally coloured fancy diamonds showcases the incredible diversity of naturally occurring coloured diamonds. Visitors can see a whole range of colours, from subtle pinks and blues to canary yellows and rare red diamonds.