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How Do We Find Meteorites?


Meteorites that are observed to fall and are collected shortly afterward are known as "falls".  Most meteorites, however, fell long ago without the benefit of human witness.  These meteorites, if we are lucky enough to find them, are called "finds".

 

Meteorite recovery is no simple task.  Meteorite falls are rare events, and statistically speaking most specimens fall into the oceans or other environments where recovery is impractical.  Fortunately, countless meteorites have accumulated in the Earth's soils over geologic time.  People working close to the land such as farmers, ranchers, and road construction crews are most likely to recover meteorites.  Meteorites fall to earth's surface randomly, but their recovery is favored in certain regions (see below).

 

Factors that Favor Meteorite Recovery

This Texas resident discovered a 13 pound iron meteorite while hoeing cotton as a boy.

 

High Human Population- New meteorite falls are most likely to recovered if they occur in populated regions, where statistics favor observation of the fall and subsequent discovery.

Agricultural Industry- Many meteorites are discovered by farmers during plowing season. Farmers that encounter meteorites may remove these hindrances, placing them along fence lines or tossing them into ditches. Many meteorites have been employed for practical uses such as doorstops due to their heft. One farmer we met plowed up an iron meteorite, and then put it to good utility as a dog chain anchor; his canine had been in the bad habit of chasing cars!

Rock-Free Soil- Meteorites are difficult to recover from farm fields that are populated by ordinary Earth rocks. In heavily-glaciated Wisconsin, meteorites are present but they are “camouflaged” by countless terrestrial cousins. In contrast, a meteorite that has fallen into clean Kansas soil is much more novel and likely to attract attention.

Arid Climate- All meteorites contain some metallic iron and are susceptible to alteration by oxidation. Meteorites survive longest in locations that have low humidity and little rainfall.

Meteorite Awareness- Educating local populations about meteorite identification is key to their recovery.  This is our objective, and we target our efforts on agricultural regions where meteorite recovery is favored.

 

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