What do a 90kg lump of rock, Damien Hirst’s artwork and Newton’s apple tree have in common?

Answer – they’ve all been into space and now they’ve touched down at the Royal Society for a brand new exhibition.

Objects in Space showcases what is believed to be Britain’s largest meteorite, never previously seen in public.  This huge specimen – found at the Lake House country estate in Wiltshire – weighs over 90kg, about the same as a baby elephant.  It forms the centrepiece of an eclectic new exhibition exploring the fascinating history and science behind two very different British meteorites.

Colin Pillinger FRS, Professor of Planetary Sciences at the Open University, who curated the exhibition, said: “I’m delighted that the public are finally getting a chance to see these unique British meteorites.   This is probably the only place in the world where people can see a rock that fell from space 30,000 years ago, a Damien Hirst painting and part of Newton’s apple tree together.  I think visitors will really enjoy the opportunity to come face to face with these fantastic objects and find out more about how scientists investigate the origins of meteorites.” Watch a recording of Colin talking about these meteorites in more detail.

Although the meteorite from Lake House is thought to be the largest meteorite in the UK, its origins are shrouded in mystery.  It became known to scientists in the early 1990s, when the owners of the house brought it to the attention of researchers.  When scientists began to investigate the rock, they were led on an intriguing detective trail, which would take them from Country Life magazine to the inventor of the spark plug, via the druids of Stonehenge.

While the second meteorite on display is considerably smaller, weighing just 32g – about the same as a mouse – its size belies another intriguing story.  Discovered in the 1970s at Danebury Hill Fort in Hampshire, it was originally thought to be an Iron Age artefact dating from when the fort was occupied by early Britons.  However, when metal in the walnut sized object was analysed in the 1980s researchers discovered that they were dealing with an extraterrestrial object.  The meteorite was then set aside for further research, and only now is appearing in public for the first time.

 

Danebury meteorite, image copyright the Open University

 

The story of how researchers are uncovering the origins of these impressive specimens will astonish and delight visitors to this remarkable exhibition, which also contains letters and books charting the history of scientific interest in meteorites.  The exhibition will also contain unique artworks – including a Damien Hirst Spot painting which features the famous Beagle 2 spacecraft as its centre spot.

The exhibition is held at the Royal Society’s London headquarters, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, SW1Y 5AG and entrance is free, but hurry, because this exclusive exhibition is only showing for a limited time and closes on 30 March 2012.  Entry is by appointment only – please call 020 7451 2606 to arrange your visit.

Daisy Barton is Assistant Press Officer at the Royal Society.

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