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Meteorite, or Meteowrong?

With the increase in “reality” shows that follow the searching and discoveries of meteorites by professionals, the Department of Geosciences is receiving at least one inquiry per week regarding findings of meteorites. Note that while our faculty are highly trained in our various fields of geology, including identification of different species of meteorites, it is not our practice to provide assay service, as it were, for rocks of any type.  We can identify rocks and minerals (it’s one of the things that drew us into this field), but identification for economic benefit is not our mission.  Please contact a local assay office or mining consultant for that service.

We have heard the following statements as evidence that their rocks may be meteorites by those inquiring:

  • “it’s attractive to magnets”
  • “it’s black”
  • “it’s heavy”

These lines of evidence do not exclude nor, more importantly, define the rocks in question as being extraterrestrial in origin.  One thing to recognize is that we live in what was, until geologically recently, a volcanically active region, and a great deal of heavy, dense, black/dark, and ferrous (i.e., attractive to magnets) igneous rock was produced and spread out over our region.  You can see remnants of this from the hills above Mountain Home to the canyons of the Snake, Bruneau, Owyhee, Malheur, and Payette rivers.  Odds are great that the rock you are interested in learning about is sourced from such a deposit.

That does not detract from your find, for inquiry about our natural world is valuable.  However, in order to prevent a meteorite shower of samples arriving in our offices and lots of time spent on the phone, we have two options for submission of your sample for review.

One: Take several good quality photos using some standard item for scale (such as a quarter or ruler).  Take the photos up close, if possible, and from different perspectives or angles.  Submit these photos to:

Two: Bring your sample to our offices, but leave it at the front desk with your contact information (email).  We will work to get you an answer within two weeks, after which time you will have one week to pick up your sample.  After that period, we will add it to our rock garden.

If you have more questions regarding your sample, or questions regarding proper identification of a meteorite, please check out this page at Arizona State University  ASU has a highly regarded planetary geology program, and has faculty with research interests in that area.

Also, Washington University of St. Louis also has a page with photos and explanations of why the many rocks submitted to them (many look just like the ones we receive) are meteowrongs.

For another reference, this article was published in the New York Times on April 20, 2016.

Thank you for your interest!