What is a meteorite?

Sidebar by Annie Hays

Meteorites – October 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

What is a meteor/meteorite?

Meteor is the term used to describe both the small pieces of solid material that enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, and the streak of light (shooting or falling star) produced when debris from space passes through the Earth’s atmosphere.

A meteorite is a solid object that’s fallen to earth. Unless a solid piece of debris actually reaches the Earth’s surface, a meteor does not become a meteorite.

What should you be looking for?

Meteorites are either stony or metallic. The stony meteorites are only a little heavier than a typical rock of the same size; whereas metallic meteorites are much heavier than typical earth rocks of the same size, and they will ring like a bell if they’re struck with a metallic object.

A freshly fallen stony meteorite has a thin, glassy black fusion crust. (Although some very rare meteorites will have a cream-colored crust due to an absence of iron.)

Most meteorites are magnetic, and if a corner is broken off, the newly revealed surface will contain metallic flakes. Older meteorites are usually weathered, and may be covered with a smooth dark brown coating.

Identifying meteorites can be very tricky, especially if they’re well weathered, and may require an expert. The Meteoritical Society maintains a website for those who want to know more about meteors and meteorites at: http://www.uark.edu/campus-resources/metsoc/index1.htm

Meteorite Myth

According to the Meteoritical Society meteorites are generally not any more radioactive than other rocks. They don’t glow; they don’t feel warm, and they’re not poisonous. It’s not dangerous to touch meteorites, or even ingest them (although the latter is not recommended).

And while some cultures have made meteorites objects of worship — some meteorites can be found in temples in Japan and Asia — meteorites do not appear to possess any extraordinary powers.