What to Do If You Think That You’ve Found a Meteorite

Since I began my web site about lunar meteorites, I have received numerous inquiries. During 2019 I was contacted 5893 times (average: 16 per day) by 2738 different people from at least 81 countries who thought that they had found, bought, or inherited a meteorite, had questions about funny-looking rocks, wanted to sell me rocks, wanted to chat about meteorites (I don’t 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’s not very good at identifying Earth rocks). Other scientists who study meteorites have had the same experience. As the public’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 the use of our limited resources and providing a service to the community, I have adopted the policies described below.

Rude Admonishments

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 doesn’t have a fusion crust or regmaglypts, so why do you think it’s a meteorite at all? Your rock has a rough exterior, unlike the smooth appearance of most stony meteorites. It’s got lots of  vesicles (holes, bubbles), which don’t occur in meteorites. Your rock is loaded with quartz or calcite, minerals that don’t occur in rocks from other bodies in the solar system. The density isn’t right for a meteorite. On the basis of my experience with the various meteorwrongs that I’ve examined, you probably have a hematite concretion or some kind of industrial by-product (slag). I have heard many wonderful stories from people who swear that they saw the rock fall, that the rock wasn’t in their driveway yesterday, or that it split their tree in two. I can’t 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, most things that fall from the sky are not meteorites.

Even if it is a meteorite, it’s 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’ve 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. However, lunar and martian meteorites contain little or no metal, so they’re not magnetic. (Also, some terrestrial rocks contain magnetite, which is magnetic.) Don’t tell me that your rock “looks like” one of the photos of a lunar meteorite on my web site. Many kinds of terrestrial rocks “look like” lunar meteorites. Finally, I don’t want to hear, “Maybe this is a kind of meteorite nobody’s ever seen before.” Get real.

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, it’s probably not a Siberian Tiger.

If you think you recovered a meteorite that you saw fall, see this and this.

1. What You Should Do

  1. Go through the Self-Test Check-List.
  2. Look at the photos of meteorites: fusion crust | regmaglypts | more photos.
  3. Look at this information about meteorite statistics.
  4. If you’re still confused, try my Some Meteorite Realities website where many of the same points are stated in a different way.
  5. I urge you to saw your rock in two or cut an “end” off with a tile saw. (Use a tile saw or bring it to a local rock shop where they are likely to have a rock saw.) Most (89%) stony meteorites are ordinary chondritesMetal grains are easily visible on the sawn face of an ordinary chondrite.
  6. If you contact me, use email. Please include a few good digital photos as attachments with your e-mail. Don’t use Google Drive or Facebook. 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 don’t want to see your photo there, don’t send a photo. I’m a retired educator. This site is intended for education.

I admit that I cannot determine with certainty whether or not a rock is a meteorite from a photo. Sometimes I can say with great certainty “That rock is not a meteorite” and rarely I 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’s a meteorite.”

2. What You Should Not Do

I am unlikely to respond at all to the following types of e-mail. If, however, I think the rock in the photos is a meteorite, then I might respond.

  1. Do not call me on the telephone, don’t send me you phone number, don’t send a letter, and don’t send me samples. I do not answer or respond to telephone calls about meteorites. Why? I can’t identify meteorites over the telephone. (Nobody can.) Also, I don’t hear well and often don’t understand people who call me on the phone. If you send a letter, I probably won’t answer it because it takes too much time.
  2. Do not send me samples. I don’t classify or “test” meteorites. I won’t send them back to you. Also, I’m retired and seldom check my old “work” mailbox at the University.  
  3. Your message has little or nothing to do with meteorite identification. Example: “What kind of rock is this?” Take it to a rock and mineral shop or a rock and mineral show.
  4. You didn’t ask me a question.
  5. You haven’t told me why you think your rock is a meteorite based on the information that I’ve provided here.
  6. You ask a dumb question like “What do you think about this one?” Answer: I don’t think about it at all.
  7. The object in photo is clearly not a meteorite to anyone who has studied the photos provided here.
  8. You want me to buy rocks or help you sell rocks that you think are meteorites. You ask me what a rock is worth. 
  9. You did not send me any photos.
  10. You sent me a video. I won’t watch it. I just want sharp, well illuminated still photos.
  11. You sent photos of several or many rocks. What? You think you found more than one meteorite? I don’t have time to look at your whole rock collection.
  12. You’ve contacted me several times before and I’ve told you that your rocks don’t look like meteorites. You are not learning.
  13. You don’t tell me your real name.
  14. You say something like “This is a meteorite unlike any one found before.”
  15. You tell me, “I know it is a meteorite.” If you know it’s a meteorite, then why are you bothering me? I can’t help you.
  16. I’ve given you my opinion before and you argue with me. If you don’t like my free opinion, get a second opinion.

3. Meteorite Testing

If you are particularly certain that your rock is a meteorite and you really want to convince me (or any other scientist), then I urge you to obtain a chemical analysis at a commercial rock-testing laboratory. I recommend Actlabs. Ask for analysis code Meteorite(ICP/ICPMS). I have no financial interest in Actlabs, I just know they do a good job. Before contacting them, however, contact me first for some advice. 

Actlabs requests a 5-gram sample (a US nickel weighs 5 grams). However, they can do the analysis on as little as 1 gram if you request “no LOI” (loss on ignition, i.e., % weight loss when the sample is heated to a high temperature). LOI is sometimes useful, but never critical, for determining whether or not a rock is a meteorite.

Send me a copy of the report (the XLS file) that Actlabs sends you and I will tell you whether the rock composition is consistent with that of a meteorite. A chemical analysis is sufficient for me to be able to say “yes, it is” or “no, it’s not” 99 times out of 100. If I conclude that the composition of your rock is not consistent with any kind of meteorite, then I will probably not be able to tell you just what kind of rock it really is. Rock-type identification requires other kinds of tests.

Check your own data with “Chemical Composition of Meteorites

If you have found a chunk of metal that you think might be an iron meteorite, you need to have it analyzed (at a minimum) for iron (Fe), nickel (Ni), chromium (Cr), and manganese (Mn).  Unfortunately, I do not know a lab that does this cheaply.  If somebody out there does, let me know.

December 3, 2019: I have received results of analyses of 547 samples from Actlabs and more than 100 samples from other labs. Only 10 of the rocks were meteorites, all ordinary chondrites. Half of these were from northern Africa or the Middle East and a couple, I believe, were stones that someone had bought or inherited.