Five Ways to Identify Meteorites from Home

If you’ve kept up with the news at all recently, you may have heard about the recent meteorite fall in Michigan. But did you know that there is actually a community of individuals that go hunting for meteorites? If you’ve ever wanted to own your very own rock from outer-space, or if you just want to hop in your car and drive out to experience the thrill of a real-life treasure hunt, then there are a few defining features you’ll want to try and look for to determine whether or not what you find is a “meteor-right,” or a “meteor-wrong.” 

1. The Magnet Test

The majority of meteorites in our solar system are comprised of extraterrestrial nickel and iron. As a result, most meteorites will easily attract a magnet. Rare earth magnets or a good neodymium magnet are going to be your best bet. But keep in mind that just because your rock sticks to a magnet doesn’t mean it’s from outer-space. Hematite, magnetite, and slag are among the most common meteor-wrongs presented to University professors and experts for identification. 

2. The Streak Test

This is a simple test that you can do from home to help rule out possible meteor-wrongs such as hematite, magnetite, or that dreaded slag. All you need is a piece of ceramic tile. If you don’t have any lying around, you can grab a piece at your local Home Depot or Lowes. All you do is bare down on the rough, unglazed side of the tile with your suspect rock, and scrape it across the surface a few times. Now look at the color streak that it made. If the streak is gray or black, then it is likely magnetite. If the streak is a reddish-brown color, then you’ve got hematite. Meteorites will leave a brown streak. If there isn’t a streak, then it’s likely that you got slagged!

3. Fusion Crust and Flow-Lines

Meteorites often get heated up to around 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit upon entry into Earth’s atmosphere. As a result, they develop a thin, black fusion crust on them. Sometimes you may even see tiny little bubbles that have developed in the crust, along with flow-lines where the rock became oriented in flight, and material burned off of it at high speeds (imagine suddenly blowing a puddle of ink on a piece of paper and what that looks like). Examine your rock. If it hit the ground or another dense object hard enough, it may have lost a piece or broken apart. If it has a light grayish interior and a thin black crust on the outside, then there is a very good chance that you may have found a meteorite. 

4. Regmaglypts

Regmaglypts are basically Nature’s thumbprints. These small depressions often form on the surface of a meteor as it burns up in the atmosphere, and little pockets get scooped out of the surface by the combination of air pressure/resistance and heat. This process is similar to the way a sculptor will carve out small scoops while creating a sculpture from clay. 

5. Chondrules and Metal Flakes

As mentioned earlier, meteorites usually contain lots of metal, so in addition to taking note of how heavy your rock is, you’ll also want to consider using a metal file to create a small “window” in a corner or other spot, which will allow you to look at your rock’s insides, also commonly referred to as its matrix. If you see small reflective flecks of metal, then that’s a good sign! If you see porous bubbles, that is a bad sign. If, however, you see what appear to be lots of smallish, various sized circles in the rock’s matrix, then this could be good. There’s a chance that those circles could be chondrules-a type of spheroidal mineral grain commonly found in most meteorites; specifically, chondrites.

If you haven’t been out to hunt for meteorites on your own yet, but the prospect of doing so is getting you excited, try starting your journey by checking out the Best of 2018 Awards to look for your next treasure hunting machine!