SCIENTISTS working on an ambitious project to launch a probe to Mars have landed in York to study one of the county’s most precious space artefacts.

Representatives of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) arrived in York yesterday to examine a meteorite which hit North Yorkshire in 1881.

The scientists hope to carry out a 3D scan of the surface of the Middlesbrough Meteorite, which is currently housed at the Yorkshire Museum. The team will then load the information on to the Mars probe so it can recognise meteorites on the surface of the red planet when it touches down in 2017.

Martin Lunn, curator of astronomy at the museum, said: “The Middlesbrough Meteorite is an extremely rare type of meteorite – one of only a few examples in the world. Because of this the scientists are coming to the museum to catalogue it with the latest 3D mapping technology so the probe can then spot if any similar ones appear on the surface of Mars. “We are delighted that an artefact from the Yorkshire Museum will be helping Europe and America’s space programme, and it is fascinating to think that when they launch the probe into outer space there will be information from our meteorite on board.”

The Middlesbrough Meteorite hit the earth in March, 1881. A booming sound was reported over north-east Yorkshire, and a few seconds later workmen at a railway siding in Middlesbrough heard a “rushing or roaring” sound overhead, followed by a thud, as something buried itself in the embankment nearby. The British Museum asked for the 4,500 million-year-old relic, but it ended up at the Yorkshire Museum after the North East Railway company deemed the meteorite “lost property”, because it fell on their land, and insisted that it stayed in Yorkshire.