The Winchcombe Fireball—that Lucky Survivor

Sarah McMullan, Denis Vida, Hadrien Devillepoix, Jim Rowe, Luke Daly, Ashley King, Martin Cupak, Robert M. Howie, Eleanor Sansom, Patrick M. Shober, Martin Towner, Seamus Anderson, Luke McFadden, Jana Horák, Andrew Smedley, Katherine Joy, Alan Shuttleworth, Francois Colas, Brigitte Zanda, Aine Clare O'BrienIan McMullan, Adam Suttle, M. D. Suttle, Peter Campbell‐Burns, Richard Kacerek, Richard Bassom, Steve Bosley, Richard Fleet, Dave Jones, Mark McIntyre, Nick James, Derek Robson, Phil Bland, Gareth Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


On February 28, 2021, a fireball dropped ∼0.6 kg of recovered CM2 carbonaceous chondrite meteorites in South-West England near the town of Winchcombe. We reconstruct the fireball's atmospheric trajectory, light curve, fragmentation behavior, and pre-atmospheric orbit from optical records contributed by five networks. The progenitor meteoroid was three orders of magnitude less massive (∼13 kg) than any previously observed carbonaceous fall. The Winchcombe meteorite survived entry because it was exposed to a very low peak atmospheric dynamic pressure (∼0.6 MPa) due to a fortuitous combination of entry parameters, notably low velocity (13.9 km s−1). A near-catastrophic fragmentation at ∼0.07 MPa points to the body's fragility. Low entry speeds which cause low peak dynamic pressures are likely necessary conditions for a small carbonaceous meteoroid to survive atmospheric entry, strongly constraining the radiant direction to the general antapex direction. Orbital integrations show that the meteoroid was injected into the near-Earth region ∼0.08 Myr ago and it never had a perihelion distance smaller than ∼0.7 AU, while other CM2 meteorites with known orbits approached the Sun closer (∼0.5 AU) and were heated to at least 100 K higher temperatures.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalMeteoritics and Planetary Science
Early online date10 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2023


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