England

Devon 'meteorite' brings memories of close encounter

Image caption Arthur Pettifor thought a rock had been thrown into his garden before he discovered it was a meteorite

Police in Devon and Cornwall have been inundated with calls after what is thought to have been the sonic boom from a meteorite falling to earth.

The chances of finding any remains are very slim say experts, but in 1991 one pensioner came a bit too close to comfort to a falling meteorite.

Pensioner Arthur Pettifor was weeding his onions in his Cambridgeshire garden when he heard a loud crash.

BBC Devon reporter Sophie Pierce, who was a cub reporter in Cambridgeshire at the time, said: "He described how he saw the conifer tree in his garden shaking vigorously.

"He went to investigate and found a piece of warm rock - obviously warm because it had just come from outer space - at the bottom of the tree and it was later confirmed to be a meteorite."

Mr Pettifor, who has since died, had found what is now known as the Glatton Meteorite, the last verified meteorite landing in the UK.

Image caption The Glatton Meteorite took pride of place at the village's Diamond Jubilee event

For a few months, Mr Pettifor kept the meteorite wrapped in cling film and showed it at the village fete for inspection by local people.

The meteorite, thought to be about 4.7bn years old, was later sold to the Natural History Museum, which verified its historical position among UK meteorite landings, for £250.

The museum classified it as an L6 chondrite, a stony meteorite which is the most common group, the other two being iron and stony-iron.

If it had been a rarer type of meteorite, say from Mars, it could have fetched tens of thousands of pounds.

Discoveries of meteorites are extremely rare and are mostly made by experts.

Mark Ford, chairman of the British and Irish Meteorite Society (BIMS), said: "People might think if they heard the meteorite over Devon and Cornwall they could find it in a field, but the chances are that it went into the Atlantic.

"It would have been several miles up and their trajectories and speed are such that they land hundreds of miles away from where they are heard or seen."

He said that the meteorite could have come from the tail end of Halley's comet, a cloud of meteors called the Orionids which can be seen in the night sky every October.

On a clear night one can see about 25 meteors an hour, he said.

Glatton is still enjoying being the site of the last known meteorite landing.

This year the meteorite went back to the village for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations when the village held a special exhibition with the help of the Natural History Museum and the BIMS.

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