University of Missouri

Geological Sciences Department of Geological Sciences Department of Geological Sciences

Meteorite Identification

Meteorite Identification Contact

Alan Whittington, Professor
phone: 573-884-7625
fax: 573-882-5458

Earthquakes Contact

Eric Sandvol, Professor
phone: 573-884-9616
fax: 573-882-5458

Meteorite Identification

Meteorites fall to Earth more often than you might think, but most rocks that get brought in to us are not meteorites. If you have an unusual rock, it might be a meteorite if:

  1. It is really dense. However, many ore minerals are also quite dense, and Missouri is rich in ore minerals.
  2. It is magnetic. This suggests the presence of metallic iron, although the iron oxide mineral magnetite is also magnetic.
  3. It is solid with no hollow pores. (Meteorites may be fractured, but no meteorites contain pores.)
  4. If a corner of the sample is ground slightly, the interior should be, or at least contain, areas that are metallic and silvery.
  5. If a sample passes tests (1) through (4), it is possible that you have an iron or stony-iron meteorite. There are also some kinds of meteorites that are almost indistinguishable from igneous rocks formed on Earth, and these often go unnoticed. The best supporting evidence that you have a meteorite is that you saw it fall from the sky and collected it from the large crater it made when it landed.
Nantan meteorite etched Toluca
Picture (1) shows a sliced iron meteorite.
This sample is smaller than a softball but weighs over a pound.
Picture (2) shows another slice of iron meteorite.
This sample has been polished and etched, to show the "Widmanstatten" crystalline pattern that is a unique characteristic of meteorites. The sample is a little over 1 inch across.
hematite nodule petrified wood
Picture (3) shows a lump of hematite
(iron oxide, a common mineral in Missouri).
This is non-magnetic and, when a corner is sawn off,
the interior is non-metallic.
This is not a meteorite.
Picture (4) shows a polished slab of petrified wood.
This is an example of a "meteor-wrong."

For more pictures of meteorites, and "meteor-wrongs," see the following:

To find out a bit more about how meteorites form, follow these links:

Department of Geological Sciences | 101 Geology Building | Columbia, MO 65211-1380
Phone: 573-882-6785 | Fax: 573-882-5458 | General inquiries:

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This file last modified Friday, 20-May-2016 09:27:36 CDT