No need to pass the salt: A trip through the atmosphere can lead to meteorites gaining the compound

Called the Winchcombe meteorite, the object landed in the town of Winchcombe in southwest England in February 2021.

WINCHCOMBE, U.K.A recent study shows that a meteorite developed salts and minerals through chemical reactions with its environment as it crashed through Earth's atmosphere in 2021.

Called the Winchcombe meteorite, the object landed in the town of Winchcombe in southwest England. It was recovered from a home’s driveway within 12 hours, with some of its fragments recovered from a sheep field six days later.

According to the University of London, the Winchcombe meteorite is a rare, carbon-rich chrondritic meteorite that contains a range of organic matter from space.

But in the time since it fell to Earth, the meteorite and its fragments also developed new matter, specifically salts and minerals, through exposure with the environment.


Researchers found that a sample of the meteorite developed halite, or table salt. They also found that a fragment of the meteorite recovered from a sheep field had developed sulfates of calcium and calcite, which are two forms of salt.

Analysis led scientists to conclude that the halite formed after the sample interacted with the humid air in the laboratory, whereas the sulfates formed after the fragment was exposed to the damp conditions of the sheep field.

"It shows just how reactive meteorites are to our atmosphere, and how careful we need to be about ensuring that we take this kind of terrestrial alteration into account when we analyze meteorites," said Laura Jenkins, the paper’s lead author and Ph.D. student at the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences.


Jenkins noted that, while meteorites can provide insights into the asteroids they came from and the role asteroids may have played in delivering water to Earth, the changes meteorites undergo when contaminated by Earthly factors can affect the information they can provide.