We have, over the years, been sent many rocks and photographs of rocks that finders suspect to be meteorites.  Some of them we have examined up close, and a few we have analyzed for mineralogy or chemical composition.  For most, however, we have only seen photographs.  It is impossible to determine with certainty if a rock is a meteorite from a photograph.  Often, however, we can say “This is almost certainly not a meteorite because...” by looking at a photograph. Unfortunately, we usually cannot say with much certainty what kind of rock it actually is by looking at a photograph. A tongue-in-cheek term for a rock that is not a meteorite is a meteorwrong. (Other terms: pseudometeorite, if it actually resembles a meteorite, and leaverite. The latter is derived from “Don't bother picking it up, just leave it right there.”)

We present here a collection of photographs that people have sent us, posted on the Internet and called to our attention, or that we have taken ourselves of rocks that people have sent or brought to us.  For most of them we can say “This is almost certainly not a meteorite.”  For a few, we’re not sure.  For each photo, we provide a short explanation of why we think it is not a meteorite.  We might be wrong. To make it more interesting, we include a few photos of real meteorites for comparison.

Notice: We reserve the right to include here (1) photos that you send us, (2) photos that we take ourselves of rocks that you send us, or (3) photos that you call to our attention that are posted on the Internet if you ask our opinion about whether we think the rock or photo is that of a meteorite.  This is a university; we learn from each other.

Click on a thumbnail photo below to see a specific photo. To see the whole collection in order, just keep clicking on the next link.

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Some considerations:   Most (~99%) meteorites found by amateurs are ordinary chondrites, irons, and stony irons because (1) these are the most common kinds of meteorites that fall from the sky and (2) such meteorites are often easy to spot because they look different from “ordinary” rocks, even to an amateur.  For example, most chondrites and all irons and stony irons contain iron metal and are, therefore, magnetic in that they will attract a compass needle.  They are also a bit denser (heavier for their size) than most terrestrial (Earth) rocks. 

About 3% of stony meteorites are achondrites such as howardites, eucrites, diogenites, aubrites, ureilites, lunar meteorites, and martian meteorites. Most achondrites contain little or no metal (<1%) and are not magnetic. All strongly resemble Earth rocks.  Put another way, many kinds of Earth rocks “look like” the rarest meteorites.  If an achondrite does not have a fusion crust (because it’s worn off or it’s a piece from the interior of a large meteorite), it is impossible to recognize it as a meteorite without doing expensive and time-consuming chemical, isotopic, and mineralogical analyses.  All the martian meteorites, for example, are rock types that are common on Earth (basalts, peridotites, pyroxenites, dunites).

Many of the people who have sent us rocks and photos have done so because of our web site on lunar meteorites.  Thus, many of the photos in the collection above really don’t look anything like “normal” meteorites.  A few resemble lunar meteorites.  Again, however, many terrestrial rocks, particularly sedimentary rocks and some volcaniclastic rocks, superficially “look like” the brecciated lunar meteorites.  Your chance of finding a real meteorite is very low. For example, there have been only about 23found in Missouri and 9 found in Illinois in the past 200 years. Less than 1 in 1000 of all known meteorites are from the Moon (same for Mars).  Thus, your chance of finding a rare type of meteorite is extremely low.

The bottom line is that if you have a rock that has no fusion crust and it looks like a terrestrial rock, then it is almost certainly not a meteorite. Meteorite dealers and scientists aren’t going to be interested in examining, studying, or analyzing it.

 

Other Meteorwrong and Meteorite Identification Sites


  

Many thanks to Bob Osburn, Karla Kuebler, Ryan Zeigler, Bob Dymek, Brad Jolliff, and Elton
for examining or analyzing many of the the rocks and photos depicted here.


www.catchafallingstar.com
www.catchafallingstar.com

This web site has been featured in the following media

Yahoo! Picks - 3 November 2005
Science NetWatch- 9 December 2005
Washington University News & Information - February 2, 2006
Popular Science FYI, April, 2006 (p. 90)


Prepared by:

Randy L. Korotev


Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
Washington University in St. Louis


Please don't contact me about the meteorite you think you’ve found until you read this and this.

e-mailkorotev@wustl.edu

Last revised02-Sep-2011


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