How to Find a Meteorite
January 3, 2020 9:08 PM   Subscribe

NASA estimates that some 48.5 tons of natural extraterrestrial material, such as dust or small chunks of asteroids, rain down toward our planet each day. Before these space rocks reach our atmosphere, they’re called meteoroids. When they enter our atmosphere, they become meteors—and many burn up, with that telltale shooting trail across the sky. When objects survive to fall to Earth, they’re known as meteorites. [...] The Meteoritical Society records only 1,824 confirmed meteorites found in the United States between 1807 and July 10, 2019. If you want to go for it, though, here’s how you can raise your odds. (Atlas Obscura)

Project Stardust has detailed steps to find micrometeorites wherever you may be (Facebook), but it's a very detailed, scientific method. For a more casual approach, Popular Science has a simplified guide. The topic is also covered on Sky and Telescope.

And as you go hunting for meteorites, a remember: you can’t necessarily steal away with any rock you happen to find. Many swaths of land in the U.S. are protected by federal laws, and visitors aren’t permitted to remove or keep rocks from them.

For even more meteorite information and news, check out Meteorite.fr - all about meteorites, which has been online for over 20 years now.
posted by filthy light thief (6 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
That checklist flow chart they linked to for identifying meteorites is pretty funny. Apparently a lot of people think that even if their rock doesn't match the criteria, it still has to be a meteorite because they saw it fall out of the sky.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 2:00 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


That checklist flow chart they linked to for identifying meteorites is pretty funny. Apparently a lot of people think that even if their rock doesn't match the criteria, it still has to be a meteorite because they saw it fall out of the sky.

XKCD provided a handy simplified chart (and linked to the real one as well, pointing out that same detail.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:36 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Before these space rocks reach our atmosphere, they’re called meteoroids. When they enter our atmosphere, they become meteors—and many burn up, with that telltale shooting trail across the sky. When objects survive to fall to Earth, they’re known as meteorites.

I thought I had found a meteorite, but it was a meteorong.
posted by mule98J at 8:56 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]


There used to be a show about meteorite hunters and they talked about meteowrongs! It was mostly stuff like old horseshoes that had gotten plowed deep into the soil, or old pipes that nobody had ever bothered to map.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:16 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


The Bell Museum in St. Paul, MN, had an exhibit last year of macro photographs of micrometeorites.

The pictures must have been the easy part; on the other hand, the photographer searched for like two years to collect all the items he took pictures of.

Hey, looks like some of the pictures are here: https://www.bellmuseum.umn.edu/city-stardust/
posted by wenestvedt at 6:59 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


A man from my hometown, Ivan "Skip" Wilson, is one of (if not the most) successful meteorite hunters in the world. There's an asteroid named for him, 195998 Skipwilson.

I've known of him and his hobby for most of my life — he's the father of a girl I dated briefly in high school. I haven't heard that Skip has passed away, though I think he'd now be in his eighties.

First and foremost, you are extremely unlikely to ever find a meteorite that results from a recent meteor, especially one you yourself witness. Very few meteors survive to become meteorites; most of those are very small. Of the few thousand meteorites of one pound or more that are estimated to fall to Earth each year, the majority will fall into the world's oceans and many of the rest will be inaccessible.

Rather, meteorites are better found in environments where they are less likely to disturbed or weathered, and are most easily accessible. If you happen to already have access to Antarctica, then there are a few areas there (the dry valleys, I believe, such as are near McMurdo) which have proven to be extremely bountiful.

Otherwise, you'll want to look in unusual regions such as where I grew up: the Llano Estacado, the high plains of Eastern New Mexico and West Texas. At an elevation of around 4,000 feet, little precipitation, very little vegetation, uninhabited until the early 20th century, and vast flat expanses of sandy soil, meteorites have been collecting there undisturbed from the depths of time — and their typically dark color against a lighter backdrop, exposed by run-off of a recent rain, makes them relatively easy to spot for the experienced and skilled meteorite hunter.

Skip Wilson's avocation grew from his vocation: farming1. Over decades he discovered more than two hundred meteorites on his land and nearby; they grace many a museum collection and he's even a coauthor of several scholarly papers.

As if that's not notable enough, on June 13th, 1998, Skip Wilson had the rare experience of witnessing a meteorite fall himself, and a hefty one at that:
THE JUNE 13, 1998, PORTALES, NEW MEXICO METEORITE FALL AND STREWN FIELD
H. Povenmire and I. “Skip” Wilson, Florida Institute of Technology

On Saturday morning, June 13 at approximately 7:32 AM M.D.T. (13:32 U.T.), a brilliant fireball exploded just south of Portales, New Mexico. This fireball was first sighted from near Happy, Texas by rancher, Ronnie Johnson. The fiery trail was estimated to have been visible for about 8 seconds. By remarkable coincidence, the beginning point of the fireball was almost directly over the house of veteran meteorite hunter, Ivan “Skip” Wilson. Since 1967, Skip Wilson has collected some 195 meteorites from Roosevelt County, New Mexico.

Skip was inside when he heard a double sonic boom followed by 6-8 popping sounds. When he stepped outside, he saw the gray, corkscrew shaped dust trail. He thought of a fireball, but at the same time heard a jet plane, so he was unsure. What he didn’t know was not far away, his neighbor, Nelda Wallace had just sat down to drink her morning cup of coffee on her verandah. She heard a whistling sound and a 16.8kg meteorite fell just 22 meters from her in her backyard. It was half buried in the dry, hard soil. The black fusion crust was easily visible and it was far too hot to handle. Even closer to skip, neighbor, Gale Newberry walked into his barn and saw daylight coming through a hole in the barn roof and a gash in the wall of the barn.

A 530 g meteorite was found lodged in the wall.

He called Skip and as soon as he heard the description, he knew that a major meteorite fall had occurred. Soon, there were reports of a 17.9kg meteorite being recovered from the field of Elton Brown. To date, about 64 kg of meteorites have been recovered but the total amount is estimated to be at least 114 kg.
1. Parts of this region are now quite fertile for farming, due to the advent of irrigation via wells into the vast Ogallala aquifer.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:18 PM on January 6


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