How Big Are Meteorites?

Meteorites are smaller than most people think

People often send me photos of large rocks that they think might be meteorites. If it is big, then it’s probably not a meteorite. Here are some statistics.

This chart shows that the most common mass for a stony meteorite is in the range 128-256 grams (4.5-9 oz). If a sphere, that’s an ordinary chondrite in the 4.2-5.3 cm diameter range.
This chart shows that half of stony meteorites are less than 283 g (10 oz.) in mass. Only 10% are greater than 5400 g (12 lbs.) If a sphere, the diameter would be 15 cm or about 6 inches.

Caveat 1: I took these data from the online database of the Meteoritical Society in November of 2010. The “mass” is the total mass of all stones of a meteorite. Large meteorites fragment as they come through the atmosphere and land, so these charts exaggerate the size of any given stone of a meteorite. That is, although 50% of meteorites are less than 283 grams in total mass, 50% of meteorite fragments are much less than 283 in mass. The numbers aren’t really known. For example, the largest meteorite represented here is Jilin, which had an estimated mass of 4,000 kg. The largest surviving fragment was 1170 kg. This is probably the largest know fragment of any stony meteorite. There were hundreds of smaller fragments.

Caveat 2: A large fraction of the meteorites represented here are from the Sahara Desert. Sometimes for Saharan meteorites, different fragments of a single meteorite are given different names. This “source of error” is probably minor.

Caveat 3: All of the most massive meteorites are irons. The thirteen <10-ton iron meteorites below account for ~60% of the total mass of all meteorites. Data from the Meteoritical Bulletin Database.

iron meteoritemass (tons = 1000 kg)where
Hoba60Namibia
Cape York58.2Greenland
Campo del Cielo50Argentina
Aletai5050China
Canyon Diablo 30USA
Gibeon26Namibia
Chupaderos24.3Mexico
Mundrabilla24Australia
Sikhote-Alin23Russia
Bacubirito22Mexico
Mbosi16Tanzania
Willamette15.5USA
Morito10.1Mexico
Meteorite collector Tim Heitz perched atop one of the largest fragments of Campo del Cielo.