Museum to display rare meteorite from solar system's birth
The satsuma-sized Ivuna meteorite contains a record of primordial material from 4.6 billion years ago - around the same time as the formation of the sun and planets.
The Ivuna meteorite contains a remarkably pristine record of the building blocks of the solar system, including water (up to 20% of its weight) and other primitive chemical compounds that shed light on the birth of the sun and planets.
Of the 50,000 known meteorites, it is one of only five that shares roughly the same ratio of chemical elements as the sun, with the exception of hydrogen and helium.
A striking specimen
The Ivuna meteorite fell to Earth in Tanzania in 1938, and was subsequently split into a number of samples. The Natural History Museum owns the largest fragment held in a public collection, using it as a key part of the Museum's research into the formation of the solar system.
Having hit Earth fairly recently compared to similar meteorites, Ivuna's composition has changed remarkably little since its formation around 4.5 billion years ago - before the Earth existed.
According to Dr Ashley King, a postdoctoral researcher at the Museum, this means the chemistry of the Ivuna meteorite is very similar to the primordial matter from which the sun and planets formed.
'Our piece of Ivuna is stored in pure nitrogen within a sealed chamber to keep it pristine. Studying it tells us about the original building blocks of the solar system, and how these materials have evolved over the last 4.5 billion years', says King.
Scientists have suggested that ancient meteorites like Ivuna could have brought the very first water and organic matter to Earth by smashing into the young planet billions of years ago.
Recent research from the Museum's Meteorite Group looked into the minerals stored in these meteorites, and demonstrated the high water content of the Ivuna specimen in particular.
Update on 6 June 2018
The Museum displayed the rare meteorite fragment at the free after-hours Science Uncovered event on 25 September 2015. The specimen is no longer on display.