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Meteorite Identification Page

Page 7 

6 ) Is the rock magnetic and when a magnet is suspended on a string and brought near to it, is it attracted?

Nearly all meteorites have iron-nickel and some are completely iron-nickel. Except for the very rare iron free meteorites, almost all meteorites will mutually be attracted to, or by a magnet. But not all magnets are like, as today's "supermagnets" will attract almost any rock that has even a small amount of iron minerals. Iron is one of the most common terrestrial elements. Therefore in testing rocks that are suspected to be meteoric, it is suggested that a standard iron magnet as opposed to a "rare earth" magnet be used. A positive magnetic result alone does not indicate a meteorite, but when correlated with other critera narrows the possibility of the sample being or not being a meteorite.


7 ) Did you actually see the rock hit the ground?

Often I receive rocks that the finder swears they saw strike the ground. The finders are adamant that the fireball plunged to the ground.

"I saw a meteor flaming all the way to the ground last night and when I went out to look for it, I found this in the spot where it hit" they often say.

A fireball (bolide) was observed, but if anyone saw it burning all the way to the ground (horizon) it was actually many, many hundreds of miles away. The terminus of such events occurs between 15 to 20 miles above the earth, and at that point the "burning" phase often ends with huge explosion, or simply fades out. But if it hit burning all the way to the ground an explosion akin to that of an atomic bomb would surely be the result. The amount of kinetic energy in meteoroid traveling at 7 to 30 or more miles per second is enormous, and fortunately our planet's thick blanket of air protects its surface (and us) from constant bombardment. If this were not so then even a small pea sized rock or chunk of iron hitting the ground at 30 miles per second would explode with the force of a 500 lb bomb and create a crater yards in diameter. Our world would look like the moon if it were not for our atmosphere burning these cosmic interlopers up.

But such events do occur.

For if a large enough object enters the atmosphere, and then reaches the ground with even a fraction of its cosmic velocity, cratering can be extensive. The Sikhote Alin event in the former USSR on Feb 12, 1947 was the last such recorded cratering event.

Fortunately, crater forming events are rare in terms of the scale of human history, and most meteorites that fall to earth simply plunge to the earth's surface innocuously. Freshly fallen specimens are usually found beneath the track of observed fireballs, or directly under the point over the ground where the fireball terminated.

Freshly fallen meteorites, whether small or large will show (unless fragmented) some amount of fusion crust. This crust is usually dark gray to black, but in some instances such as in the rare Cumberland Falls Meteorite, Norton County Meteorite, and the Pena Blanca Springs Meteorite (observed falls) fusion crust can look like a thin tan to dark brown varnish.

Fusion crust is one of the primary characteristics that one looks for in the process of meteorite identification. Except for very weathered specimens most will have a fusion crust or traces of it, and learning to identify it is important in sorting out meteorites from "meteorwrongs"

Often after a fireball event people are excited enough to go out and look for meteorites, and previously fallen ones not related to the event that sparked one to search are sometimes found. Thus it pays to search after a major fireball sighting.

So, if your rock meets most if not all of these meteorite identification points, then there is a fair chance that it is genuine. You should then send at least a grape to walnut sized piece of it (20 - 30 grams) to a university that specializes in meteorites or to an authority, such as myself.


I have over the years received thousands of samples and ten times that number in the form of photographs. Though a photo can help me to sort out the obvious "meteorwrongs," a hard sample is the best way for me to determine if the specimen from which it came is a meteorite. In the more than 35 years that I have been involved with meteorites not once has any of my identifications been reversed by an institution, or the Meteoritical Society. But my word is only the beginning in the process, for should I deem the sample a meteorite, then classification ensues. This requires sending the sample to a university specializing in the study of meteorites and involves the use of very costly and specialized petrologic equipment and labor, which can take weeks to years. Then, and only after the results of the analysis are recorded for the scientific community will the meteorite from which the sample came be officially announced by the Meteoritical Society to be listed in the Catalog of Meteorites, an international publication of the Meteoritical Society.

I offer meteorite identification services at no cost, other than a small sample. Should your rock prove to be a meteorite, then I will evaluate it, initiate the process of its classification, and give you an idea as to what it is worth.

However, should you submit a sample, include with it a clearly written e-mail address or a STAMPED SELF ADDRESSED ENVELOPE so that I can return a reply. Without a SASE I will not return a reply. And PLEASE, DO NOT SEND ANY ROCK SAMPLES REGISTERED OR CERTIFIED ! I will not receive these, and they will be sent back unopened.

Due to the huge amount of time that all the submissions I receive require, I no longer return samples. Unless, proven to be meteoric, all samples will be discarded upon my examination. Also, should you send e-mail photo attachments of your specimen please insure that the files are in JPEG format and no larger than 75K in size.



Steve Schoner

American Meteorite Survey

P. O. Box 1003

Flagstaff, AZ 86002