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Meteorite Identification


The following characteristics apply to all three meteorite varieties (stones, irons, and stony-iron).

 

Meteorites are heavier than ordinary rocks.  This is especially true for iron meteorites, for which a one-cubic foot specimen will weigh hundreds of pounds.   Stony meteorites, though much less dense, are still heavier than similarly-sized terrestrial rocks due to the presence of small metal particles and low porosities.  The iron meteorite pictured here weighs 13 pounds...a hefty little space rock!

 

Freshly-fallen meteorites typically have a black crust (called a fusion crust) and lighter colored interior.  However, the crust turns rusty-brown over time due to metal oxidation.  The typical meteorite find (whether stony or solid iron) has the appearance of an old, rusty tin can.  When I hunt meteorites visually, my eye is fine-tuned for spotting rust-colored stones.

 

 

 

The left photo shows a meteorite that was recovered immediately after it fell at Homestead, Iowa in 1876.  Note the dark thin crust and lighter-colored interior where the crust has chipped off. The right photo shows the rusty-weathered surface of a meteorite found by the author in the California desert.  The scale cube is 1 cm (a little less than a half-inch) across.

 

The surfaces of meteorites are smooth due to aerodynamic sculpting in the atmosphere.  Meteorites may be covered by shallow "dents" called thumbprints, but they are NEVER porous like a sponge.

This 25 pound stony meteorite was discovered by a farmer during plowing.  It displays a typical smooth surface (without pore holes) and several thumbprints due to aerodynamic sculpting.

 

Meteorites are attracted toward a good magnet due to their iron content.  For iron meteorites, the magnet will nearly jump from your hand whereas for stony meteorites the attraction is often less pronounced.  A good test is to suspend your magnet from a string and and observe the deflection toward your suspected meteorite.  If you suspect that you have found a stony meteorite, grind off a small area using a fine (600 grit) grinding wheel or file. If your sample is an authentic stony meteorite, small metallic particles will be visible on the exposed surface.

 

This photo shows the cut face of a stony meteorite.  The bright spots are metallic iron particles. Scale cube is 1 cm  (a little less than a half-inch) across.

 

Meteorites are found "out of place".  They look different from the local rocks or (better yet) are found in a field that lacks any other rocks.

 

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