Have you ever discovered a bizarre wanting rock when out mountaineering and thought, “I wager that got here from outer area!” I’ve. Sadly, it’s virtually undoubtedly not a meteorite. As cool (and profitable) as it will be to likelihood on the rest of a meteor that survived its journey by way of the ambiance to strike Earth, discovering a bonafide space-rock is lottery-winning fortunate. Folks considering they’ve discovered a meteorite is as widespread as socks, although. Nonetheless, it may well’t damage to examine, so right here’s a down-and-dirty information as to whether that cool wanting chunk got here from area or is only a dumb, boring Earth rock.
Meteorites are uncommon
Analysis performed on the College of Manchester and Imperial School counsel round 17,000 meteorites weighing between 50 grams and 10 kilos strike Earth annually, which could sound like quite a bit, however we’re speaking about tiny objects randomly scattered throughout the entire planet. Most of them fall into the oceans, and many of the ones that do hit land are small and unassuming, so the prospect of you working right into a meteorite randomly and really noticing it are slim—solely about 1,800 meteorites have been present in the US previously two centuries. You’d do higher in search of diamonds, gold, and emeralds, all of that are extra considerable than meteorites.
The most effective spots for looking meteorites
Regardless of their rarity, folks nonetheless discover meteorites often—however normally they’re wanting in the suitable locations. The most effective spot to hunt for area particles is Antartica. Meteorites don’t fall there fall there extra typically than different locations, however the darkish chunks of rocks and metallic are extra noticeable towards the white floor. Different spots meteorite hunters may take into account are California’s Mojave desert and Africa’s Sahara. Suppose darkish chunks towards a light-weight background.
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How to tell if you’ve found a meteorite
If you manage to spot an out-of-place looking rock on a desert hike, don’t get too excited. It’s still probably not a meteorite. Here are some characteristics of meteorites and meteor-wrongs to help you identify whether you’ve gotten extremely lucky.
Actual meteorites tend to have these characteristics:
- Fusion crust: Meteorites are usually coated in an ashy black layer of fused rock caused by the intense heat generated when they pass through the atmosphere. Although the color can changed to a rusty brown after years on Earth, the lack of something that looks like a fusion crust almost always means it’s not a meteor.
- Density: Meterorites are heavier than other rocks their size. Iron meteorites are 3.5 times as heavy as a typical Earth rock. Stony meteorites are about one and half times as heavy. But a chunk of slag, a byproduct of industry, is heavy as well, and way more common than a meteorite.
- Regmaglypts: Meteorites generally have smooth surfaces, but they are often covered in regmaglypts, small depressions that look like someone has pressed their thumbs into wet clay.
- Magnetism: Most meteorites contain iron-nickel and will attract a magnet. Many Earthly rocks do too, though. Magnetite and hematite are common, heavier than other rocks, magnetic, and and can look like meteorites, so it’s not an easy process.
- Non-streaking: If you rub most ordinary rocks against the unglazed side of a piece of kitchen or bathroom tile, it will leave a streak. Meteorites generally do not.
If your rock has any of these characteristics, it’s probably not a meteor:
- Roundness: Meteors are almost never round. They are irregular shaped, as Earthly forces like erosion haven’t touched them.
- Bubbles or holes: Terrestrial rocks often have bubbles or holes in them. Meteorites do not.
- Radioactive or hot: Meterorites are almost always cool when they hit Earth. They don’t start fires on the ground. The trip through the atmosphere is quick and doesn’t heat up the inside of the rock. They are also not radioactive, so your Geiger counter is of no use.
So now do I have a meteorite?
If your rock has passed all these tests, it might be a meteorite—but it probably isn’t. Many Earth things can resemble meteorites. Slag is probably the most common meteor-wrong, but there’s also basalt, iron ore, coal, chunks of asphalt, charcoal briquets, etc. Basically anything could be (and probably has been) mistaken for a meteorite by someone.
It’s hard to get a professional to care about your little rock
As difficult as it to find a meteor, it might be harder to find a geologist who will help you identify it, so don’t take it down to the local university and knock on the door of the geology department. Geologists have had it with people coming in asking about the weird rock they found. Check out this awesomely crotchety rant from lunar geochemist Randy L. Korotev from Washington College in St. Louis that begins: “In 2022, I used to be contacted 5,905 instances by 2,095 completely different individuals from 89 nations…Almost all of those folks questioned whether or not they had discovered, purchased, or inherited a meteorite,” and ends with, “Different scientists who research meteorites have had the identical expertise and most now not reply to questions from the general public.”
In case you give folks cash although, they are going to be joyful to inform you haven’t discovered a meteor. Costs range from lab to lab, however it’s not extremely costly: New England Meteoritical Companies, as an example, will take a look at a small pattern of your rock for under $30. (I don’t know in the event that they’re respected, and I’m not recommending them—simply providing you with an concept of the worth.)
The opposite choice is to only inform everybody you discovered a meteor. Except you’re pals with geologists, who’s going to know?