Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/03/05/meteor-uk-skies/

Space FIREBALL over Blighty sparks hunt for rich meteorite

Boffins wowed by rock worth weight in gold

By Anna Leach

Posted in Science, 5th March 2012 13:01 GMT

Astronomers are searching for a highly expensive fist-sized meteorite that lit up the skies over Blighty on Saturday night. The fireball plunged to the ground somewhere in Devon, Normandy or in the Bay of Biscay - sparking fears of a downed aeroplane or missile attack.

The lump of space metals would be worth its weight in gold, Dr Marek Kukula, public astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich told The Independent: "Our own origins are locked up in these pieces of rock. They are pristine material from the beginning of the solar system and hold the ingredients of life. They are a real treasure-trove."

The Kielder Observatory in Northumberland reported the meteor as "huge fireball" travelling from north to south over Northumberland at 9.41pm, and rated its brightness at magnitude of -9. The breathless boffin manning the observatory's Twitter feed reported it as the highlight of his 30 years in astronomy.

First appearing over Scotland, the fiery space rock alarmed and enthralled folk across the UK; people in Strathclyde and Durham called the plod to report sightings of a damaged aircraft.

Others said the fireball looked like firework with a tail of many colours. John Kelly from Blackpool described it on Meteor reporting site AMSMeteors:

The head looked like a sparkler glowing gold with sparks coming off it and a white tail moving from left to right.

Amateur astronomer Phil Randall, from Sutton in Ashfield, said:

As an experienced amateur astronomer, this is the longest and brightest fireball I have ever seen and my fellow astronomers who were watching (we had a public open event at our observatory so there were probably 20 or 30 people watching) were all amazed and fascinated by the view. The object broke into 4 or 5 pieces directly above the viewing location.

Astronomers hope that a small fragment of it survived the fall through Earth's atmosphere and will turn up on land. ®