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

Since I began my web site about lunar meteorites in 1998, I have received numerous inquiries about meteorites. During 2020 I was contacted 5259 times (average: 14.4 per day) by 2121 different people from at least 75 countries who thought 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 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 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.

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 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.

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

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’re 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 chondritesMetal 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, do not contact me. I am a retired educator. This site is intended for education.

Get your rock tested (I don’t test rocks), but contact me first before you spend money on testing.

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 is a meteorite.”

2. Do Not Do This

Do not contact me until you have done the Self-Test Check-List.

Do not call me on the telephone, don’t bother sending me your phone number, and don’t send a letter. I do not answer or respond to telephone calls about meteorites and I’m not going to call you. Why? I cannot identify meteorites over the telephone. (Nobody can.) Also, I do not hear well and often don’t understand people who call me on the phone. If you send a letter, I probably will not answer it because it takes too much time.

Do not send me photos or analysis results via cloud services like Google Drive or social media like Facebook. Send photos as email attachments.

 Do not send me a video (MP4). I won’t watch it. I just want sharp, well illuminated still photos.

Do not send me samples. I won’t send them back to you. I do not classify or “test” meteorites. Also, I am retired and seldom check my old “work” mailbox at the University.

Do not go into long explanations about why you think the rock is a meteorite. I will not read it. The rock speaks for itself. Send good photos.

3. I Will Not Respond to Your Message If…

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. I’m not a geologist.

You did not ask me a question.

You sent me underexposed or poorly focused photos.

You haven’t told me why you think your rock is a meteorite based on the information that I’ve provided here.

The object in photo is clearly not a meteorite to anyone who has studied the photos and information provided here.

You ask a dumb question like “What do you think about this one?” Answer: I don’t think about it at all.

You want me to buy rocks or help you sell rocks that you think are meteorites. Not my job; I’m a poor scientist. Find a meteorite dealer. There are lots of them on the internet.

You ask me what a rock is worth. I don’t know. I’m just a poor scientist. Ask a meteorite dealer.

You sent photos of several or many rocks. What? You think that you have found more than one meteorite? I don’t have time to look at your whole rock collection.

 You’ve contacted me several times before and I’ve told you that your rocks don’t look like meteorites. You are not learning.

You don’t tell me your real name.

You say something like “This is a meteorite unlike any one ever found before!” or “Maybe it’s from Pluto!” Get real.

You tell me that your rock “looks like” a lunar meteorite or martian meteorite. In the absence of a fusion crust, all achondrites “look like” some Earth rocks.

You say that you rock contains diamonds or that you can see the nickel. It doesn’t work that way.

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.

I have given you my opinion before and you argue with me. If you don’t like my free opinion, get a second opinion.