How to Use Metal Detectors to Find Meteorites

By Daniel Bernzweig

You probably won't have the opportunity to travel through space, but you may be lucky enough to find a piece of it—also known as a meteorite. Meteorites are space objects or pieces of asteroids or other celestial matter that fall to Earth. Amazingly, there are rocky remnants from space that actually survive the fall through our atmosphere! Meteorites can be distinguished from Earth's rocks because they are magnetized by their composition of iron, nickel or both.

Occasionally, you'll hear a news story about a farmer who's discovered a rare meteorite in his field or researchers who've found specimens scattered throughout the desert. Recently, an individual in Florida was reportedly hit in the head by a very small object with a fusion crust. The fragments were taken to Florida Atlantic University where researchers determined they met all the criteria to suggest meteorites.

Can a Meteorite be Located with a Metal Detector?

Hunting for meteorites is a form of metal detecting that is both interesting and potentially valuable. It's not particularly easy to find one of these celestial rocks. Most people who are searching for meteorites study the science behind the rocks first, then hunt in areas with a high probability of yielding success. Experts say the best places to hunt are in locations that have been identified as “strewn fields.” This is a zone where several meteorites from the same fall have been recovered. Luckily for meteorite hunters, there are many strewn fields across the United States. So far, the highest yielding states have been Arizona, Texas and California. Expert meteorite hunter Twink Monrad has located a variety of unique meteorites with her XP DEUS metal detector by XP Metal Detectors. She enjoys metal detecting with her friends at a strewn field at Gold Basin in Arizona.

How are Meteorites Distinguished from Other Rocks?

There are many different types of meteorites and not all of them are easily identified. The easiest to identify are nickel-iron meteorites, as they are magnetic, very dense and heavy for their size. Learn more about the three most common types of meteorites in this article: What are the Best Detectors for Finding Meteorites? Meteorites possess characteristics that set them apart, so you will need to know what you are looking for when using a metal detector. Here is a list of differentiating features to determine if the rock you've detected is a meteorite. They will usually have all or most of these characteristics:

  • Fusion crust (a dark, glassy crust produced by melting of its surface)
  • Rock is magnetic
  • Density
  • Thumbprint-like impressions in the rock
  • Iron-nickel metal
  • Chondrules (small, rounded particles embedded in the meteorite. Visually, it is clear that they were formed at high temperatures.)

If you find a rock that could possibly be a meteorite, you will need to get it tested for positive identification. If you are looking to identify your finds, be sure to get your hands on the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Meteorites by O. Richard Norton.

Best Meteorite Hunting Metal Detectors

Two of the three types of meteorites (stony-iron and iron) can be located with a metal detector; it will readily pick up a signal for both of these metals. The best meteorite-hunting metal detector has both a low frequency and a sensitivity to small objects. Metal detectors that are designed to locate gold are also highly adept at finding meteorites. The most popular type of gold detector is a very low frequency (VLF) model. VLF detectors can determine approximately how deep an object is buried based on the strength of the magnetic field generated. The closer to the surface an object is, the stronger the magnetic field will be.

Finding small nuggets and fragments of metal is usually better with a VLF detector, especially with small coils. If you want to search deeper in the ground for meteorites, it will be beneficial to purchase a larger search coil, as well. This allows for deeper penetration and target identification.

Below are suggestions for popular meteorite-hunting metal detectors:

Entry-Level Meteorite Detectors

Mid-Level Meteorite Detectors

High-End Meteorite Detectors

Embark Upon an Exciting Hobby

If you don't get grazed in the head with a meteorite, you may just have to go searching for one yourself. A quality metal detector in a strewn field will likely be your best bet. Perhaps you could plan your next vacation in an area where a meteorite has fallen. Don't forget metal detecting headphones and accessories to make your hunt as successful as possible. For helpful articles about getting started with a metal detector and tips from detecting experts, check out our Learning Library. You've find a wealth of information about everything related to metal detecting here at MetalDetector.com.

© 2013 Detector Electronics Corp.

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