Geology Site Account
Ashdon meteorite (site of fall), ASHDON, Uttlesford District, TL581409, Potential Local Geological Site
Site name: Ashdon Meteorite (site of fall)
Grid reference: TL 581 409
Brief description of site:
Site of the fall of the Ashdon meteorite in 1923. The fall was witnessed by a farmworker. This is a rare example of a meteorite fall being witnessed and the stone recovered. The meteorite is now in the Natural History Museum, London.
On 9 March 1923 Frederick Pratt, a thatcher, was working in the corner of a wheat field on Ashdon Hall Farm when, about 1pm, he heard a strange hissing sound and looked up, supposing it to be an aeroplane. A second or two later he saw an object fall about thirty yards from him into the field causing the earth to 'fly up like water'. Three days later, in the company of another worker on the farm, he dug up a stone from a depth of about 60 centimetres (two feet) and took it to the police station. He subsequently passed it to the vicar of Wendens Ambo who fortunately donated it to the Natural History Museum in London. Scientific investigation proved beyond doubt that the stone was a meteorite. This was an object that had travelled billions of miles in space and was at least ten times older than any other stone to be found in the soil of Essex.
From Pratt's observations as to the direction from which the sound came and the inclination of the hole, it would seem that the stone was travelling south-west to north-east and must have passed over Saffron Walden. As far as could be ascertained there were no reports of sonic booms or detonations which would have been expected as the stone travelled at supersonic speed. During its descent through the atmosphere frictional heating would have turned it into a fireball. Had Pratt been able to handle the stone immediately after impact he would have found it warm to the touch but the interior would still have been exceptionally cold - the temperature of deep space.
The Ashdon meteorite is important not only because it is well-preserved and still available for study but because the fall was witnessed. In England in the last 100 years only three other meteorites were seen to fall and were subsequently recovered.
The meteorite is in the Natural History Museum in London although it is not currently on display. It can be seen by appointment. A cast of the meteorite is on display in Saffron Walden Museum. Ashdon Village Museum also has a cast of the meteorite and a small display on the fall.
View from Church End Ashdon towards the site of the fall
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Reference: Hutchinson & Graham 1992, Prior 1923.
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