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

Since I began my web site about lunar meteorites, I have received numerous inquiries. During 2014 I was contacted 2189 times by 1083 different people from at least 68 countries who thought that they had found, bought, or inherited a meteorite, had questions about funny-looking rocks, wanted to sell me meteorites, 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 spend a lot of time answering e-mail messages, looking at photos, examining rocks, and bothering my colleagues.  Other scientists who study meteorites have had the same experience. As the public’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 the use of our limited resources 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 doesn’t have a fusion crust or regmaglypts, so why do you think it’s a meteorite at all?  Your rock has a rough exterior, unlike the smooth appearance of most stony meteorites. It’s got vesicles (holes), which don’t occur in meteorites.  Your rock is loaded with quartz or calcite, minerals that don’t occur in rocks from other bodies in the Solar System.  The density isn’t right for a meteorite. On the basis of my experience with the various meteorwrongs that I’ve examined, you probably have a hematite concretion or some kind of industrial by-product (slag).  I have heard many wonderful stories from people who swear that they saw the rock fall, that the rock wasn’t in their driveway yesterday, or that it split their tree in two.  I can’t explain how your rock got to be where you found it, but I can say that it is not a meteorite. [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.

Even if it is a meteorite, it’s not from the Moon or Mars. As I note on my Lunar Meteorites web page, meteorites are rare, lunar meteorites are very rare. Less that 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’ve 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.  However, lunar and martian meteorites contain little or no metal, so they’re not magnetic.  (Also, some terrestrial rocks contain magnetite, which is magnetic.)  Don’t tell me that your rock looks like” one of the photos of a lunar meteorite on my web site.  Many kinds of terrestrial rockslook like” lunar meteorites.  Finally, I don’t want to hear, “Maybe this is a kind of meteorite nobody’s ever seen before.”  Get real.

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.

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

 

What You Should Do

Despite my rude admonishments, you still want to know if your rock is a meteorite and I feel some obligation to respond to your interest. Also, there is a chance that your suspicions are correct and that you have actually found some kind of meteorite. So, here’s what you should do.

Look at this information about meteorite statistics. Go through the Self-Test Check-List. If you’re still confused, try my Some Meteorite Realities website where many of the same points are stated in a different way. Look at the photos.

I urge you to saw your rock in two or cut and "end" off with a tile saw. (Or, bring it to a local rock shop where they are likely to have a rock saw. ) Most stony meteorites are ordinary chondrites. Metal grains are easily visible on the sawn face of an ordinary chondrite.

If you contact me, please use e-mail or send me a letter. Do not call me on the telephone. I do not answer or respond to telephone calls about meteorites. Why? I can’t identify meteorites over the telephone. (Nobody can.) Also, I don’t hear well and often don’t understand people who call me on the phone. So, e-mail me.

Please provide the following information:

  • Your name. I feel no obligation to respond to persons who do not have the courtesy to provide me with their real name.
      
  • Where you found the rock.  Country, or state (if U.S.) where you found the rock.  It would also help if you are more specific (“in a bean field,” “on top of my house,” “in my neighbor’s basement”).
      
  • Tell me why you think it’s a meteorite.  Examples of good reasons: “It has what I think might be a fusion crust,” “I heard a loud noise and saw this rock bouncing down the driveway,” “There aren’t any other rocks like this around here.”  Examples of bad reasons: “It looks like a rock on your web site,” “It’s magnetic,” “I’ve always wanted to find a meteorite, sell it, and get rich.”
      
  • Tell us the size, either weight or volume.  “It’s the size of my little brother’s head” is OK.  Better, send me the length, width, and depth as well as the weight.

Please include a few good digital photos with your e-mail.  If the photos aren’t in focus, they are of no use to me. (I seen few decent rock photos taken with a cell phone.) Include some object like a hand, coin, or ruler in the photographs for scale. Otherwise, send the rock or a piece of the rock to me.  I will take a serious look at any rock that you send, as long as you don’t send lots of rocks and you provide the information requested above.  Send the rock to:

regular mail:

Dr. Randy Korotev
Washington University
1 Brookings Dr
Campus Box 1169
Saint Louis MO 63130-4899

UPS., FedEx, etc:

Dr. Randy Korotev
Washington University
1 Brookings Dr
Rudolph Hall Room 110
Saint Louis MO 63130

I’d rather have the whole rock, but I only need a piece at least the size of a golf ball to examine. Unless your rock is very beautiful, you will not be decreasing its monetary value by breaking off a small piece. As one meteorite dealer told me, “Every time I saw or break a meteorite in two I’ve increased its value.”  Be sure to send me your return postal address, e-mail address, and the cost of return postage if you want your sample back. I will not save rock samples for more than a few months after examining them. 

If you do send more than one rock, please give each of them names or numbers so that I can distinguish them when I communicate with you about them.  I will not respond to letter requests that contain only photographs, requests that are made by telephone, or any request that does not include your name and information about where the rock was found (country or state). 

Meteorite Testing

If you are particularly certain that your rock is a meteorite and you really want to convince me (or any other scientist), then I urge you to obtain a chemical analysis at a commercial rock-testing laboratory. I recommend Actlabs. Ask for analysis code Meteorite(ICP/ICPMS). I have no financial interest in Actlabs, I just know they do a good job.

Actlabs requests a 5-gram sample (a US nickel weighs 5 grams). However, they can do the analysis on as little as 1 gram if you request “no LOI” (loss on ignition, i.e., % weight loss when the sample is heated to a high temperature). LOI is sometimes useful, but never critical, for determining whether or not a rock is a meteorite.

Send me a copy of the report (XLS file) that Actlabs sends you and I will tell you whether the rock composition is consistent with that of a meteorite. A chemical analysis is sufficient for me to be able to say “yes, it is” or “no, it’s not” 99 times out of 100. If I conclude that the composition of your rock is not consistent with any kind of meteorite, then I will probably not be able to tell you just what kind of rock it really is. Rock-type identification requires other kinds of tests.

Check your own data with "Chemical Composition of Meteorites"

If you have found a chunk of metal that you think might be an iron meteorite, you need to have it analyzed (at a minimum) for iron (Fe), nickel (Ni), chromium (Cr), and manganese (Mn).  Unfortunately, I do not know a lab that does this cheaply.  If somebody out there does, let me know.

October 5, 2015:  I have received results of analyses of 370 samples from Actlabs and more than 100 samples from other labs.  Only two of the rocks were meteorites, both ordinary chondrites.  The first was found by a soldier in the Sahara desert, the other was also from the Sahara and bought by someone who wanted to know if it was “real.”  (I didn’t know the circumstances until after he’d sent me the results. I was hoping that he’d found it.) So, once again, finding a real meteorite is highly improbable.  
  

 

 

Back to Some Meteorite Information

 


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-mail
korotev@wustl.edu

Last revised: 3-December-2019