The rock was seen falling to Earth in a fireball last July, and fragments were found on the ground in December, when collectors began to suspect the rare discovery had come from the red planet.

International experts carried out tests to confirm the speculation, making it only the fifth time in history scientists have officially recognised a meteorite as being from Mars.

Scientists from museums, universities and NASA were clamouring to get a hold of samples of the rock even before it was confirmed as Martian, offering vast sums of money. Samples would be among the rarest items ever, and are selling at up to £15,000 per ounce – ten times the value of gold.

Meteorite expert Chris Herd, who heads the committee that certified the find, bought a chunk, describing it as “a free sample from Mars … except that you have to pay the dealers for it.”

Astronomers have theorised on how the meteorite came to being. They believe something large collided with Mars millions of years ago, spraying rock into space, which glided through the solar system before entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

They say it fragmented on its descent, and broke up into smaller pieces as it hit the ground. The chunks weigh between one and seven kilos.

The meteorite discovery is the first of its kind since 1962, providing valuable samples from Mars that no space mission has been able to retrieve.