Meteorite Identification Page
From what I have seen the most common mistake people make is, if they can't identify a rock or a specimen then they automatically assume it must be a meteorite. They see a rock that is not like the other rocks in that area so it must be a meteorite. This is almost never enough reason for the rock to be a meteorite, it is only a reason to take a closer look at the rock that is out of place.
In recent months I have had many many more meteor wrongs sent to me, countless photos and amazing stories. But still not one single meteorite, in the years I have been on the web and people have been sending me their finds that they thought to be a meteorite not one has been real. We are not even going to talk about rare types of meteorites because you need to be an expert to identify them. We are going to deal with the common chondrite or not so common iron or pallasite meteorites. The mistake people are making pretty much every time is they are not really looking. A meteorite has iron inside of it that is why it sticks to a magnet. So if it sticks to the magnet but on the cut or freshly broken face it shows no clear shiny and bright metal. It is not a meteorite. If it sticks to a strong magnet but does not set off the detector it is not a meteorite why? Well because the reason it would stick to the magnet is that bright and shiny metal. If the bright and shiny metal was in there the detector would make a good signal on it. For some un known reason people think a meteorite is black and full of bubbles and holes like a lava rock. All you have to do is look at real meteorites they don't look like a lavas rock....lava rocks do though. Meteorites can be black or dark colored, but there is a reason for that. They were changed by passing through our atmosphere. They are one color on the inside everything from white to black is possible. But even with all the possible color differences in a real meteorite they will look different from the outside to the inside. If you have a suspect specimen and it is black and you chip a piece of and it is the same black inside as is outside, well yes you guessed it again. This is not a meteorite.
Compare To Photos Of Know Meteorites
The first thing to do is go online and look at pictures of meteorites. There are thousands of them. If your suspected meteorite is mostly composed of stone material then use the word stone meteorite in your search for pictures of meteorites. If it feels like it is iron then look specifically for pictures of iron meteorites. Then start comparing your specimen to the pictures, once you have looked at a dozen pictures of stone meteorites. You will begin to see they have many features in common with each other. Does your stone have some of those features? Same with iron meteorites, after looking at the photos you will see similarities that you can compare to your specimen. Now something you need to know about iron meteorite is that many of them have been mechanically and / or chemically cleaned. Most when found are rusty, or could be covered with cliche. However a fresh iron can be black and shiny.
I would say that at least 95% of the suspected meteorites I have been ask to help identify have been a simple glance at them and instantly I knew there is no chance this is a meteorite. There is simply nothing about them that resembles a meteorite. So if you have taken an honest look at you suspected meteorite and compared it to as many photos as you could find and it still looks good. Then there are some other things you can do to see if it is a meteorite. I can't emphasize this enough still today many people are sending me pictures of some crazy shaped or colored rock that has no feature that is even similar to a meteorites. Take some time and compare your suspected meteorite to pictures of known meteorites. Just because you or I don't know what something is does not mean it might be a meteorite. It simply means we don't know what it is.
Check Your Possible Meteorite With A Strong Magnet
One of the first things you can do is to see if your suspected meteorite sticks to a magnet. Now the magnet needs to be a strong magnet. A rare earth magnet is best, but these are not usually available in you local store, they are available on E Bay. If your possible meteorite sticks to the magnet that does not mean it is a meteorite. Many rocks you find will stick to the magnet. This is just a simple test you can do to add information to your quest to identify this specimen. The fact is some meteorites don't stick to a magnet at all. These however are very, no really I mean VERY rare, so if your rock is not attracted to the magnet it is not a meteorite. That statement will be correct 9,995 times to the 5 times it is proven wrong. So I feel pretty safe in saying it.
Does It Feel Heavy For It's Size?
Another characteristic of most common meteorites is that they feel heavy for their size when compared to regular rocks. One of the reasons they are heavier is that they contain iron, the same reason the magnet sticks to them. This is again not a defining factor just another good sign of a possible meteorite.
Compare The Inside To The Outside
One of the things that helps us to find a meteorite is the fact that they must pass through our atmosphere to get here. When they do come through our atmosphere there appearance is affected by that passage. The journey however brief at cosmic speeds smooth's the outside features of the meteorite. It also adds a fusion crust usually black and over time can start to look reddish or brown. Most meteorites have some chips on them, even fresh falls many times have broken surfaces. Sometimes from impact with earth or just because they are fairly fragile. If this is a suspected meteorite that had been sitting on earth for hundreds or thousands of years then it is very likely to have broken surfaces due to weathering. So what you are looking for is if it is a meteorite it should have surface features that are different than the interior of the specimen. Many times a meteorite will have a dark smooth exterior and a light colored interior. The point here is that if the exterior looks the same as the interior then you have lost a reason to think it might be a meteorite.
As A Last Resort
Those of us that hunt for meteorites as an on going passion often cut a suspected meteorite before we toss it in the meteor wrong box or pile in the yard. A more primitive method of cutting is called breaking it in half or knocking a chip off of it. This may seem a little drastic but I used the break it in half method to identify my first meteorite from Gold Basin. It works both ways weather you cut it on a diamond saw or break it in half with a rock hammer. When you expose the interior of a meteorite you will almost always see metal flakes. Shiny silver specks sprinkled through out the matrix of the meteorite. If this is a meteorite you will most of the time see chondrules. Chondrules are round balls in the matrix of the meteorite. In a cut specimen you see a cross section of the round shape,usually a slightly different color than the rest of the meteorite. On a broken surface you will many times see a sphere or a void where the sphere (chondrule) used to be.
What about the rare meteorites that don't have much iron in them?
Now there are exceptions to the metal flakes and the magnet and the heavy feel of a meteorite. Some meteorites have no visible metal, some do not feel heavy and some are not attracted to a strong magnet. First of all the chances of finding one of these in the US is less than winning the state lottery. It is possible but not likely at all, so the only reason to consider that a suspected meteorite could be of a rare type is that it is simply a fresh black meteorite and there is little room for doubt that it is really a meteorite. Or that there is a drastic difference between the inside and the outside of the stone. Other than these two indicators you will need to be an expert on the identification of rare meteorites to even look any further. So unless it is clearly a meteorite or black and smooth on the outside and gray on the inside, just toss the ones who don't pass these simple tests in a pile in your yard. If you miss one of those 1 in 10,000,000 rocks there is a chance that some day some one will recognize it in your yard. But don't hold your breath.
If You Still Think You Have Found A Meteorite
If after all this testing you still think it is a meteorite, maybe it is time to contact someone who knows. A picture is almost never enough to be sure, the best way is to send the sample, or a piece of it to someone who knows. Just discuss what will happen with the sample before you send it. If you want it to be returned to you no matter what is determined just make that clear before you mail it off. If you have a local meteorite person that is great look them up and see if they can help you. If now you can send me a sample and I will do some of my own testing on it, if I think it is a meteorite I can help with getting it classified and or sold.