What is a Meteorite and How Do You Identify It?

By Michael Bernzweig

What meteorite hunter wouldn't love to add a freshly fallen meteorite to their collection? Meteorite hunting is a popular hobby for many people, but it can be difficult to know if what you've found is actually a meteorite. The study may take you back to memories of your school days and your earth science class. Meteorite Men, a popular television show, has inspired many treasure hunters to use metal detectors to find meteorite falls.

The most common types are iron metal meteorites or stony iron meteorites. If your object is magnetic, it's likely made of iron and is in the class of stony meteorites. If it's not magnetic, it may be a stone meteorite or stony iron meteorite.

Here are some tips on how to identify a meteorite

Meteorites are often pitted or grooved. If you see these features on your object, it's another indication that it may be a meteorite.

Meteorites are also often very dense. If your object is much heavier than other rocks of the same size, it could be a meteorite.

Meteorites often have a fusion crust. This is a thin, black coating that forms on the outside of the meteorite when it enters the Earth's atmosphere. If you see this feature on your object, it's likely a meteorite. You can consider it at this point a suspected meteorite prior to formal identification.

If you think you've found a meteorite, take it to a local museum or university for further meteorite identification. With these tips in mind, you'll be on your way to becoming a successful meteorite hunter!

Some Common Terms and Definitions

A meteorite exchange occurs when two asteroids collide in space, creating an asteroid that contains both materials from each parent object. This new object then enters Earth's atmosphere and burns up before falling back down onto our planet.

An Earth Rock is a type of rock that has been formed on the surface of the Earth's crust. They can be found in many different places around the world. Some examples include beaches, deserts, mountains, plains, and valleys.

A stony meteorite is an object that has been ejected from the surface of another planet or moon during its formation. These objects have not yet undergone any significant alteration due to their exposure to space. They may be composed entirely of silicate minerals (such as feldspar), or they may contain some iron nickel metal, or mineral material.

Chondrules are small (1-10 mm) fragments of primitive meteorites that formed in the early solar system. They were among the first solids to condense out of the hot gas clouds surrounding newly forming stars.

An Allende meteorite is a rare type of chondritic meteorite that originated in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. They have been found on Earth only once before, in 1969, when a large chunk was discovered in Antarctica. This meteorite has since become famous for its unusual chemical composition.

A meteoroid is an object that enters Earth's atmosphere at speeds greater than ten km/s (33,000 mph). Meteoroids can be classified into two groups: meteors and meteorites. Meteors burn up in our atmosphere before they reach the ground; however, some meteors survive their fiery plunge and enter the earth's surface. These objects are called meteorites.

Aerolite meteorites are small fragments of meteors that have been found in the ocean. They are usually composed of iron ore and nickel.

An asteroid is any small object in space that orbits around another celestial body (such as Earth). Asteroids can be rocky bodies like the Moon or icy bodies like comets.

Meteoroids that have entered the Earths atmosphere are called meteors. Meteors can be classified into two types: fireballs (or bolides) and non-fireballs. Fireballs are large objects that burn up in the atmosphere before reaching the surface of the Earth. Non-fireballs are small objects that survive entry into the atmosphere and reach the ground intact.

What Is a Meteorite?

Meteorite fragments are often found in areas where there has been a recent meteorite shower. These fragments, called meteoroids, are usually much smaller than actual meteorites. Meteoroids can be made of either iron or stone but are not typically magnetic. Meteorite falls are rare, so if you think you've found one, it's important to have it identified by a professional. 

A meteorite is a piece of space rock that has fallen to Earth. Most meteorites are very old, dating back to the formation of our solar system. They are made of either iron or stone and are often very dense. Meteorites can be any size, from tiny grains to large boulders. 

Meteors are sometimes called "shooting stars" or "falling stars." But these terms are actually misleading because meteors are not really stars at all. A meteor is a small piece of space rock, usually no bigger than a pebble. When a meteor enters the Earth's atmosphere, it starts to heat up and burn up due to friction and never reaches the ground. 

Meteorites, on the other hand, refer to space rocks that do make it all the way to the ground. Meteorites also differ from Earth rocks in that they typically have a fusion crust or a thin black coating on the outside and a different composition entirely.

Fresh meteorites are those that have not been altered in any way since they were ejected from their parent bodies (planets). They can be found on Earth's surface, but most are found in space.

Lunar Meteorites

Lunar meteorites are rocks that fall onto the moon during their formation. A Lunar meteorite contains minerals such as iron, nickel, platinum, gold, silver, copper, and other elements. These minerals were formed when the solar system was young and hot. The best way to find these meteorites is to use a metal detector. Metal detectors work because they pick up magnetic fields created by metals like iron and nickel. The stronger the field, the more likely it is that the object being detected will be metallic. To find lunar meteorites, look for areas where the ground has been disturbed. Look for large boulders or mounds of dirt that may indicate an impact crater.

How to Find Meteorites

There are three main types of meteorites: iron, stone, and stony iron. Iron meteorites are made mostly of iron, with small amounts of other minerals like nickel. They are usually black or dark in color. Stone meteorites are made of rock and are often brown or reddish in color. Stony-iron meteorites are a mix of both iron and stone and can be any color.

Using weather radar data, scientists can sometimes predict where a meteorite might have landed. They look for areas with a high concentration of meteoroids in the atmosphere and then search that area for meteorites on the ground. You can also look for meteorites in areas where there has been a recent meteor shower.

Known meteorites are typically quite small, so it can be difficult to find one without knowing where to look. Meteorite hunters often use deep-seeking metal detectors and gold prospecting detectors to help them find these small pieces of space rock. Metal detecting is an effective way to find meteorites, but it can be time-consuming. Drones and Google Earth have also been used to find meteorites from the air.

On December 27, 1984, a Martian meteorite was discovered during an excavation in the Allan Hills public land region of Antarctica. This meteorite is known as ALH84001. This terrestrial rock sample is currently the oldest known meteorite and contains evidence that suggests early microbial life may have once existed on Mars. Martian meteorites are any piece of material that originated on Mars and fell into Earth's atmosphere. Meteorite finds in South Carolina and Virginia have also been well-documented. 

Most meteorites are found in deserts or other arid locations because they are easier to see against the lighter-colored background. Other areas that have yielded meteorite finds include Australia, Chile, parts of North America, and the Southern United States. 

Resources for Identifying a Meteorite

The American Meteor Society receives several thousand reports of fireball sightings each year. Most of these can be easily explained as meteors, but a small percentage remain unexplained. These unexplained sightings could be due to meteorites, but they could also be caused by other phenomena like aircraft flares or bright planets. How do you know if you have a potential meteorite? It is important to speak to a professional to determine if you have a real meteorite or just a common earth rock that you found on the earths surface.

A differentiated meteorite is a meteorite that has been altered in some way after its formation. A smaller object impacting the parent body may cause this alteration, or heating during accretion may cause it. Among the different types of meteorites are iron-nickel metal cores, iron-rich olivines, silicate minerals, carbonaceous chondrites, and stony-iron meteorites. The presence of iron in a meteorite can be detected by a strong magnet.

If you think you've found and recovered meteorites, the best thing to do is take them to a local museum or university for further identification. The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, for example, has a meteorite collection that includes more than 40,000 specimens. The collection is constantly growing as new meteorites are discovered and donated. 

Dr. Randy Korotev is a lunar geochemist at Washington University in St. Louis. He was chosen for the 2022 Meteoritical Society Service Award. Dr. Koroteva was recognized for his efforts to categorize lunar meteorites, as well as his development and maintenance of the "go-to" website for lunar meteorites. 

Oslo-based photographer and researcher Jon Larsen is one of the leading meteorite and micrometeorite discoverers in the world. Larsen's work has been used to develop new methods for searching for and identifying small particles from space, particularly in snow and ice. Larsen has also developed techniques for finding and photographing micrometeorites - tiny pieces of space rock that fall to Earth every day.

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