NASA uses Yorkshire Museum meteorite to prepare for Mars trip

By Graham Pembrey | 14 January 2010
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a photograph of a black meteorite

(Above) The Middlesbrough Meteorite, which came crashing to earth more than 200 years ago

A team of space scientists planning a mission to Mars stopped off at the Yorkshire Museum today (January 14) to make a 3D map of the famous Middlesbrough Meteorite which will be installed on a probe bound for the red planet.

The meteorite, which landed in 1881 to the surprise of nearby workmen on a railway, is an unusual specimen because it did not tumble through the earth's atmosphere and break up into fragments.

Like many of the 500 meteorites which hit Earth each year, the Middlesbrough Metorite flew straight through, retaining its circular shape.

Because of its atypical appearance, scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will catalogue it using the latest 3D mapping technology and store it, along with other examples, onboard an unmanned probe they are sending to Mars in 2017.

The robot will then be able to spot any similar bodies that might appear on the surface of the planet.

"We are delighted that an artefact from the Yorkshire Museum will be helping Europe and America's space programme," said Martin Lunn, Curator of Astronomy at the Yorkshire Museum.

"It is fascinating to think that when they launch the probe into outer space there will be information from our meteorite on board."

The 4,500,000,000-year-old meterorite was formed at the same time as the earth and the solar system. The British Museum wanted it for their collection when it first landed, but it ended up at the Yorkshire Museum after the North East Railway company insisted that, since the meteorite had fallen on their land, it was "lost property" and should be kept in Yorkshire.

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