The earth may not be facing a devastating cosmic impact in the near future but that doesn’t stop around 500 pieces of space debris – aka ‘meteorites’ – hitting the earth each year. It was on Christmas Eve 1965 that the Leicestershire village of Barwell became the unexpected ‘hosts’ to one of the largest meteorites recorded in British history!
This piece of space debris may have been seen by many people who probably viewed it as a simple shooting star. What may have been mistaken for the bright star was, in fact, a fireball sweeping across England, announcing the arrival of what was to become Britain’s largest meteorite.
Kevin Yates of the National Space Centre later explained that when it first entered the atmosphere it would have been something like the size of a desk but most of that would have been burnt up on its way through the atmosphere. None the less, a sizeable chunk would still have made it through to the Earth’s surface though, by then, it would probably be about the size of a Christmas turkey.
Putting all this together it could be said that the people out on this Christmas Eve in Barwell saw ‘a flaming Christmas turkey followed by a sonic boom’ as the 4.5 billion-year-old rock exploded into thousands of pieces’. Amazingly no-one was injured but, had the meteorite landed elsewhere, it could easily have been a different story. It was said that if it had been just a few seconds later it would have missed Barwell and hit Leicester. That would have been a major disaster.
One ‘mature’ resident took it in his stride saying ‘I seem to remember it was like this in the war – only there were more things falling from the sky then!’
Another said that ‘Santa didn’t make this kind of impact!’
As soon as the news broke, Barwell was inundated with meteorite hunters from around the world. With museums offering money for every piece, the search was on – although not everyone was cashing in. One ‘Barwellian’ described how huge sums of money were being paid for fragments of this meteorite and that how, if they had realised this, they could have become quite rich people because they had been stumbling around it all on their carol singing trip.
While some kept the meteorite fragments as a memento or to display while at least one resident took a holiday from the proceeds of his find. Astronomer Patrick Moore arrived as soon as he heard the news and, on finding a lump of the meteorite, took it promptly to the local museum.
One resident was lucky enough to uncover one of the largest pieces of the meteorite which was given pride of place on top of his piano for over a week. They then sold it to Leicester museum and went on holiday with the money. Another local resident found a 1kg piece. To another it would be worth thousands but it this collector it is priceless. He says: “It’s quite special to get these time capsules from the beginning of our solar system – it can tell us a lot about the universe we live in.”
Although there have been several meteorite hits in Britain since 1965, the Barwell meteorite remains the biggest and for the safety of the earth – let’s hope it stays that way