What to do if you think that you have found a meteorite
Since I began my website about lunar meteorites in 1998, I have received tens of thousands of inquiries about meteorites. In 2022, I was contacted 5905 times by 2095 different persons from 89 countries. One fellow from Sweden contacted me 243 times and one from Turkey contacted me 175 times. Nearly all of these people questioned whether 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 chastised me because they found my admittedly rude admonishments below to be too rude. I have spent a lot of time looking at photos, answering e-mail messages, 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 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 am 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 and it does not attract a magnet, 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 to me 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 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 less for Mars. No lunar meteorite has yet to be found in the Americas or Europe; all were found in deserts on drier continents. You have got a better chance of winning big in the lottery than finding a lunar or martian meteorite. It is not possible to identify a rock as a lunar or martian meteorite simply from its appearance.
You say that your rock attracts a magnet or a compass. 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 is driving down the highway and it has 4 tires, 2 headlights, and a trunk, then it is probably an automobile, not an alien spacecraft. Or, to twist an old American expression, if looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is probably not a Siberian Tiger.
If you think that 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.
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, poorly exposed, or too far from the camera 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.” I only 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.” That is not a “no,” it is just a statement that your rock does not look like a meteorite to me. Maybe it is a meteorite but it just does not look like one. That happens. Get it tested.
Do not call me on the telephone. Do not send me your phone number or WhatsApp number. I do not answer or respond to telephone calls about meteorites. I am not going to call you back. Why? (1) I cannot identify meteorites over the telephone. Nobody can. There is nothing that you can tell me on the phone that will lead me to conclude that your rock might be a meteorite. Do the Self-Test Check-List and email photos. (2) I am hard of hearing and will probably not understand you.
Do not send a letter. 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 or WhatsApp. Send photos as email attachments.
Do not send me a video (MP4) or a YouTube link. I will not watch it. I just want sharp, well illuminated still photos of the whole rock, preferably JPG.
Do not send me closeup or microscope photos of rocks. They are of no use to me. I want to see what the rock looks like as a whole.
Do not send me samples. I will not 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 send me a long explanation about how you found or acquired your rock. I will not read it. The rock speaks for itself. Send good photos.
3. I will probably not respond to your message if…
You do not ask me a question.
You have not told me why you think your rock is a meteorite based on the information that I provide here.
I have answered your questions several times before yet you continue to send me photos of rocks that are clearly not meteorites. You are not learning. I do not want to look at every rock you find.
You ask me to get back to you “right away.” I do not work for you. I do this as a volunteer service and I do not get paid or charge a fee.
You ask me a question like “What do you think about this one?” or “Do you have an opinion about” a rock in a photo that you sent. Answer: I do not think about it at all and I do not have an opinion. Are you asking me if I think the rock is a meteorite? Do the Self-Test and then tell me what you think.
You sent me underexposed or poorly focused photos.
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 am not a geologist and cannot identify rock types from photos.
The object in the photo is clearly not a meteorite to anyone who has studied the photos and information that I provide here.
You want me to buy rocks or help you sell rocks that you think are meteorites. Not my job. I am a poor retired scientist. Find a meteorite dealer. There are lots of them on the internet.
You ask me what a rock is worth. I do not know or care. Ask a meteorite dealer.
You sent photos of several or many rocks. What? You think that you have found more than one meteorite? I do not have time to look at your whole rock collection.
You do not 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 say that you rock contains gold, diamonds, lonsdaleite, or carbonados. All of these features are rare in meteorites and are microscopic is size. You cannot see them even with a magnifying glass. Experienced meteorite finders do not use these characteristics to identify meteorites in hand.
You say that you can see the nickel. No, you cannot see nickel in a meteorite. You might be able to see metal, but you cannot determine just by looking whether the metal contains nickel.
You tell me, “I know it is a meteorite.” If you know it is a meteorite, then why are you bothering me? I cannot help you.
I have given you my opinion before and you argue with me or insult me. If you do not like my free opinion, get a second opinion. I am really not interested in convincing you that your rock is not a meteorite. I just give free advice and opinions.