Since I began my web site about lunar meteorites in 1998, I have received tens of thousands of inquiries about meteorites. So far this year (2021) I have been contacted an average of 20 times per day by people who think that they had found, bought, or inherited a meteorite, had questions about a funny-looking rock, wanted to sell me rocks, wanted to chat about meteorites (I do not chat), or who chastised me because they found my admittedly rude admonishments below to be too rude. I have spent a lot of time answering e-mail messages, looking at photos, examining rocks, and bothering my colleagues who are real geologists. (I am a retired lunar geochemist who is not good at identifying Earth rocks.) Other scientists who study meteorites have had the same experience and most no longer respond to questions from the public. As the people’s interest in meteorites increases and the price of rare meteorites remains high, I expect such inquiries to increase. In order to strike a balance between use of my time and providing a service to the community, I have adopted the policies described below.
I’m sorry, but you have not found a meteorite. Yes, your rock is funny-looking and different from other rocks in the area where you found it, but it does not have a fusion crust or regmaglypts, so why do you think it is a meteorite at all? Your rock has a rough exterior, unlike the smooth appearance of most stony meteorites. It has lots of vesicles (holes, gas bubbles); vesicles are rare in meteorites but common in Earth rocks and slags. Your rock is loaded with quartz or calcite, minerals that do not occur in rocks from other bodies in the solar system. On the basis of my experience with the various meteorwrongs that I have examined, you probably have a hematite concretion or some kind of industrial by-product (slag). I have been sent many wonderful stories from people who swear that they saw the rock fall, that the rock was not in their driveway yesterday, or that it split their tree in two. I cannot explain how your rock got to be where you found it, but I can say that it is not a meteorite. (Nearly every rock that someone has described as “it wasn’t there yesterday” was just the right size for throwing. Really.) Not everything that falls from the sky is a meteorite. Or, as one of my correspondents put it, most things that fall from the sky are not meteorites.
Even if it is a meteorite, it is not from the Moon or Mars. As I note on my lunar meteorites web page, meteorites are rare, lunar meteorites are very rare. Only about 1800 meteorites have been found in the United States in the past 200 years. Less than 1 in 1000 of all known meteorites are from the Moon, and the number is about the same for Mars. No lunar meteorite has yet to be found in the temperate environment of North America or Europe; all were found in deserts of drier continents. You have got a better chance of winning big in the lottery than finding a lunar meteorite. You say that your rock attracts a magnet or a compass. That’s nice. Most (>95%) of meteorites (irons and ordinary chondrites) attract cheap magnets because they contain iron-nickel metal. Many terrestrial rocks, however, contain the mineral magnetite, which also attracts a cheap magnet. (Do not use a rare-earth magnet; a cheap “refrigerator magnet” will attract a meteorite.)
Think of it this way. If it’s driving down the highway and it has 4 tires, 2 headlights, and a trunk, then it’s probably an automobile, not an alien spacecraft. Or, to twist an old American expression, if looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably not a Siberian Tiger.
Do’s and Don’ts
1. Do This
Go through the Self-Test Check-List. Most of the time you can determine for yourself that your rock is not a meteorite. If your rock does not have a fusion crust and does not attract a magnet, then I am not going to tell you that your rock is a possible meteorite.
Look at the photos of real meteorites: fusion crust | regmaglypts | more photos.
Look at this information about meteorite statistics.
If you are still confused, try my Some Meteorite Realities website where many of the same points are stated in a different way.
I urge you to saw your rock in two or cut off an “end.” Use a tile saw or bring it to a local rock shop where they are likely to have a lapidary saw. Most (89%) stony meteorites are ordinary chondrites. Metal grains are easily visible on the sawn face of an ordinary chondrite.
If you contact me, use email. Include a few good digital photos as attachments to your e-mail. If the photos are not in focus or are poorly exposed, they are of no use to me. Include some object like a hand, coin, or ruler in the photographs for scale. Tell me why you think it is a meteorite. If you send me a particularly good photo, I might use it on one of my identification pages without mentioning your name. So, if you do not want to see your photo there, then do not contact me. I am a retired educator. This site is intended for education.
Get your rock tested (I do not test rocks), but contact me first and send photos before you spend money on testing.
I cannot determine with certainty whether a rock is a meteorite from a photo. Sometimes I can say with great certainty “That rock is not a meteorite” and I rarely say “Yes, that rock looks like a meteorite to me.” My most common response, however, is “That rock is lacking the most characteristic feature of a meteorite, a fusion crust, so I have no reason to suspect that it is a meteorite.”