A guide to celestial objects, 'What's in a name?" Source: European Space Agency (ESA)

What is a Meteorite?

A meteorite is a solid object which has fallen to Earth from space, and can be rocky or metallic. They can be described as 'fall' meteorites if we see them fall and recover them, or 'finds' if we happen to come across them but didn't see the meteor/fireball event.

Meteors are the flashes of light produced when meteoroids pass through Earth's atmosphere and typically burn up. Some survive that atmospheric entry though, and those events are known as 'fireballs'. Fireballs can be so bright that they are seen in the middle of the day, and can be heard for miles around!

While some meteorites are found immediately after their fall, many have been on Earth for thousands of years prior to their discovery!

Meteorites that have fallen recently are known as 'fresh' and typically have a distinctive black coating called fusion crust that can look glassy/smooth. Older meteorites that have been on Earth for a while can be 'weathered' and are often covered with a fairly smooth dark brown or even rusty coating.

Most meteorites are magnetic, some strongly, some weakly. If a corner is broken off and polished, most meteorites will contain numerous small flecks of metal.

Can Anyone Find & Own meteorites?

In most countries it is fine for private individuals to collect and trade meteorites. Some countries have different rules, or even export bans, so be sure to check local laws & regulations beforehand.

In the UK, meteorites belong to the landowner where they are found, so landowner permission should always be sought prior to going searching!

Landowners can sell or gift any meteorites they find as they see fit, and scientists are always willing to help out with getting them identified. However, it is not an official meteorite until it has been classified scientifically.

Find out more about this process in relation to the Winchcombe Fall.

Field photo of the Manto meteorite prior to collection, Strezelecki Desert (Australia) in 2016.

Electron microscope image of the Manto meteorite; (left) X-ray element map where each colour represents a different element; (right) backscattered electron (BSE) image showing the meteorite texture.

How are meteorites Classified?

Confirming a meteorite can be tricky, and to be officially recognised will need to have been scientifically studied by an expert and submitted to the Meteoritical Society.

Contrary to popular belief, not all meteorites are heavy and magnetic. Not all of them contain metals at all. Lots of terrestrial (Earth) rocks can be mistaken for meteorites, and some human-made materials can also be meteorite-like at first glance too!

The best way to confirm a possible meteorite is to send a small piece (about the size of a fingernail) to meteorite experts such as those working at universities and museums. Scientists will use a variety of microscopic & non-destructive techniques to describe the meteorite, including minerals and chemistry.

Space Rocks UK regularly help classify meteorites, including our Nullarbor finds and the recent Winchcombe UK meteorite.

We can help with identifying and classifying yours too - contact us if you think you have found something!