Could tiny rocks in a Milton Keynes lab hold answers to the big questions about life on Earth?
The Department of Planetary and Space Sciences at the Open University is home to a very rare and unusual collection of rocks, the star of which is a tiny piece of the moon from one of NASA’s Apollo missions.
And currently under analysis in the department’s lab is a piece of the asteroid that entered the Earth’s atmosphere over Russia last month, injuring 1,500 people.
Many samples of the meteorite were sold by locals on sites such as eBay, but some have been gathered in a more scientific fashion.
The meteor fragment is currently under micro-analysis, but the department hopes to have its results published soon.
Like all the rare and valuable space rocks at the centre, it remains under secure lock and key in a clinically sterile environment to prevent any contamination from ‘earth bugs’.
It’s the job of Dr Natalie Starkey, one of the leading cosmo-chemists at the internationally-renowned facility, to delve into asteroid and comet samples brought back from space, alongside meteorites (rocks which naturally fall to earth).
When questioned about her work, she said: “I essentially love looking at rocks. These are the best rocks you can look at, because they come from space.
“They allow us to peek into a different world to ours. Ultimately some of my work lends itself to figuring out how life may have started on earth.
“We are trying to answer really big questions with ultimately small samples.”
> Video reporter Natalee Hazelwood went to film in the secure vault and find out exactly why we are all so fascinated with rocks from outer space