A Comprehensive Guide to Meteorite Identification

AEROLITE METEORITES is a commercial meteorite company. We provide meteorite specimens to universities, institutions, and collectors worldwide. Aerolite owner, Geoff Notkin, is the host of TV's Meteorite Men and an internationally respected authority on meteorites. PLEASE NOTE: This page is provided as a free resource to help people who believe they have found a meteorite.

Please be aware of the following:

1) Aerolite Meteorites does not carry out meteorite identification or valuation services and we are not able to accept phone calls or emails asking for help identifying suspected meteorites. This policy is in effect to allow us time to focus on our own work. Thank you for your understanding.

2) We do not accept physical specimens for examination or identification. In other words, please do not mail your rock to us. We will not accept unsolicited specimens that have been mailed to us.

3) We sometimes purchase meteorite specimens but only if they have been identified and classified. That means they have a name and classification. If you have a rock that you think might be a meteorite, we will not buy it from you, so please look elsewhere.

Please do not telephone us with "I've found a meteorite questions." Our staff have many responsibilities and are not able to respond to telephone or email inquiries from people who think they might have found a meteorite. If you want someone to look at your rock in person, please do a web search to determine which companies are currently offering ID services.

We recommend that you read this page in its entirety. The answers to important questions such as "What is a meteorite?" can be found here.

We have compiled this information to help you learn about meteorite identification. We hope you find it useful.

A meteorite is a piece of iron, stone, or stony-iron composite that has fallen to Earth from outer space. Most meteorites originated within the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, and were once part of a planet or large asteroid. A few meteorites come from the Moon and Mars, and a few others may possibly be fragments of cometary material.

Meteorites are valuable both to science and the collecting community. A modest portion of meteorite finds should be made available to academia for study. Identification and classification of a new meteorite is a fairly complicated process that can only be handled by a very small number of specialists.


Meteorites are attracted to magnets
Meteorites contain a great deal of extraterrestrial iron, even the ones that look like terrestrial rocks (stony meteorites). Just like a common nail or ball bearing, they will easily stick to a magnet, but they are not magnetic. Test your find with a good hardware store magnet, or a rare earth magnet (offered for sale on our web site). An extremely small percentage of meteorites (far less than one in a thousand) do not show strong attraction to a magnet. They are so rare that we usually discount anything that will not adhere to a magnet. Those meteorites look similar to volcanic rocks from Earth, and are not metallic in appearance.

Meteorites are heavy
Most meteorites are much denser than ordinary Earth rocks. The thing most people say when they hold a meteorite for the first time is, "Wow! It's so heavy!" The unusual weight is due to high iron content. Even stone meteorites will feel heavier in the hand than most Earth rocks.

Meteorites are not radioactive
Meteorites likely traveled in space for millions of years before visiting us here on Earth. They were bathed in cosmic rays, but are not dangerous or radioactive. Some meteorites, such as Canyon Diablo from Arizona, contain micro diamonds but those gems are nearly invisible to the naked eye and can only be seen after cutting a specimen. Meteorites do not contain emeralds, gold (except possibly as a trace element), fossilized aliens, or common earth minerals such as quartz. If your rock looks just like other earth rocks, it probably is one. Meteorites look and feel different from the ordinary rocks around them.

Meteorite identification: irons
Meteorite identification: Old stone meteorite
Meteorite identification: fusion crusted stone
An iron meteorite (Canyon Diablo) from Arizona's Meteor Crater. Note orange patina and adhesion of strong magnet
A moderately weathered stone meteorite (NWA 869) found in the Sahara Desert. Note adhesion of strong magnet
A stone meteorite (Gao-Guenie) which fell in Africa in 1960. Note the rich black fusion crust and the large surface dimples


Attraction to a magnet
Meteorites will easily stick to a magnet. Use a good quality magnet to test your specimen. If you do not have one, we offer for sale the same powerful rare earth magnets used in our television series Meteorite Men. These indispensable magnets are always found in Geoff's meteorite hunting kit and on his pick. Because of our rare earth magnet's powerful pull, meteorites actually jump right to it!

Meteorites are dense, they will usually feel heavier than ordinary Earth rocks of a similar size.

Fusion crust
Recently fallen meteorites will exhibit fusion crust. This is a thin black rind, sometimes shiny, sometimes matte black, which is acquired during burning in the atmosphere. A freshly fallen stone meteorite will look much like a charcoal briquette. Even stone meteorites that have been on the Earth for a long time usually retain some fusion crust and almost always appear much darker than ordinary rocks.

Surface features
Meteorites, especially irons, often acquire "regmaglypts" (thumbprints) caused when their surface melts during flight. Stone meteorites sometimes display regmaglypts too, but they are not as well defined as in irons. Meteorites, particularly irons, may also show angular features such as points and ridges, and also flowlines which are caused by melting. Many of the suspected meteor-wrongs we receive are common terrestrial volcanic rocks. Volcanic rocks (along with other types) often contain small, deep holes, as if they had been repeatedly punctured with a needle. These holes are called vesicles and are caused by gas escaping when lava cools, but meteorites do not contain vesicles.

Meteorite identification: Sikhote-Alin
Meteorite identification: thumbprinting
Meteorite identification: weathered iron
An iron meteorite which fell in Russia in 1947. It displays many fine regmaglypts. This is what a freshly-fallen iron meteorite would look like
An older iron meteorite in as-found condition. This meteorite has been on Earth for centuries. Note the surface features (regmaglypts) and rust
An iron meteorite found in the Namibian desert. This meteorite has been on Earth for centuries. Note the angular shape, large regmaglypts and desert patina

Metallic flakes
Nearly all stone meteorites contain small, bright metallic flakes. These are tiny pieces of extra-terrestrial iron and nickel. You can usually see them after slicing off a small piece, or removing a corner with a bench grinder. Please note! We recommend that you do not cut up your suspected meteorite, or otherwise damage its appearance. A meteorite with an attractive or interesting shape will be worth less to collectors if its end has been hacked off. Ask a meteorite professional or accredited lab to do your cutting and testing.

Small, colorful, grain-like spheres which occur in most stone meteorites, hence the name of these stone meteorites — chondrites. Chondrites are the most common type of meteorite. Chondrules are not found in earth rocks.

Rust or patina
Meteorites which have been on the Earth for a long time will likely start to rust, or — in dry desert environments — acquire a "patina" caused by oxidation. The natural patina of irons is often yellow/ochre, red, or orange.

Meteorite identification: metal flakes
Meteorite identification: chondrules
Meteorite identification: flow lines
Most stone meteorites contain abundant small metallic flakes composed of nickel and iron. These flakes cause stone meteorites to feel heavy
Most stone meteorites contain grain-like components known as chondrules. Chondrites (containing chondrules) are the most common type of meteorite
Flowlines (caused by melting) and glossy fusion crust on an Australian Millbillillie stone meteorite — one of the very few that will not stick to a magnet


"I want to find my own meteorite. Where do I look?"
Meteorite hunting is an unusual occupation and the best way to succeed is to understand what meteorites are, where they come from, and what equipment and techniques are best suited to find them. Geoff Notkin of Aerolite Meteorites and star of Science Channel's award-winning hit series Meteorite Men, has written the definitive guidebook to searching for space rocks. Meteorite Hunting: How To Find Treasure From Space can be ordered online, or directly from us. This groundbreaking book is packed with color photographs, maps and diagrams, and also contains an excellent section on meteorite identification.

"Will I have a better chance of finding a meteorite the day after a meteor shower?"
Meteorites are not associated with annual meteor showers such as the Perseids and the Leonids. The cosmic material which causes those shooting stars is cometary debris — small pieces of ice and rock, frozen and drifting in space, which burn up when they encounter our atmosphere. There has never been a documented case of a meteorite being part of one of the annual meteor showers.

"If a meteorite hit my house, shed, barn, etc will it burn it down?"
Despite what we see in Hollywood action movies meteorites are not burning, or even hot when they land upon the Earth. The glowing fireballs we see in the night sky are caused by atmospheric pressure and friction. Meteors stop ablating (burning) approximately seven miles above our planet's surface, then fall in what is known as "dark flight," according to the normal pull of gravity. It is very cold at an altitude of seven miles, so meteorites cool quickly as they plummet towards the Earth. There has never been a documented case of a burning, or even hot, meteorite landing upon the Earth. If you witnessed a burning object hit the ground it may have been a damaged aircraft, fireworks, UFO, or other unknown object.

"I saw a burning fireball land. How do I find it?"
Due to their great brightness large meteors often create a remarkable optical illusion in which it appears that they have hit the ground somewhere nearby. The glowing fireballs we see in the night sky are caused by atmospheric pressure and friction, but meteors stop ablating (burning) approximately seven miles high. If you are lucky enough to witness a bright fireball, and the flame goes out while it's directly overhead, it is possible that the meteorite will land nearby. When we see a bright shooting star apparently landing close by, what we are usually seeing is a fireball arcing away, over the horizon, still high up in the atmosphere. Due to the curvature of the Earth, the fireball may seem to hit the ground, but has in fact just moved out of our field of view and gone beyond the horizon. Because of its extreme brightness the fireball appears — to our human eyes — to be much closer than it actually is. It's something I, myself, have been fortunate enough to witness a couple of times and it's frustrating because it does look as if the meteorite landed "just over there." However, it probably landed hundreds of miles away due to the incredible speed of travel. Another thing to consider is that when a meteorite lands near observers, those witnesses report hearing loud sonic booms, and/or "whizzing" noises. If no sound accompanied the spectacle, then the meteor was probably a great distance away. But at least you had the privilege of witnessing a real fireball! If you did hear the noise phenomena that accompany a meteorite, congratulations you are one of the lucky few! We are unable to investigate fireball sightings at this time, due to existing commitments, but we can offer you metal detectors and rare earth magnets to assist you in starting your own meteorite hunt.

"I found one of those rare meteorites that doesn't stick to a magnet"
Not likely. Even the most experienced meteorite hunters who have found hundreds of specimens hardly ever find one of those rare meteorites which is not attracted to a magnet. The few meteorites that are not attracted to magnets look much like earth rocks and the majority of those have been found because it was a witnessed fall. If you've found a shiny metallic-looking rock that doesn't stick to a magnet, it's not a meteorite. The earth rock most commonly mistaken for a meteorite is hematite, a common iron oxide which has a bubbly red, gray, or black metallic surface, and is sometimes called a kidney stone.

"I found a rock in my field/driveway/yard and it wasn't there before"
Many people contact us after finding a rock which has materialized on a lawn or driveway during the night. I agree this is an intriguing mystery. Please remember not all strange rocks are automatically meteorites. Please perform some of the tests described below to find out more about your rock.

"I found a strange rock in the ocean/in a riverbed/near the railroad tracks"
As we now know, meteorites contain iron and iron decomposes in moist environments or near water, especially salt water. It is therefore very unlikely that a meteorite would be found in or near the ocean or a riverbed, although meteorites have occasionally been found in dry washes in the desert. Man-made material that will stick to a magnet is often used in the construction of railroad lines and that material is usually black in color. If your rock was found on or near a railroad line, it's not a good sign.

"I found a heavy piece of metal that is round and looks like a cannon ball"
I have never seen a perfectly round meteorite. If your piece of iron looks perfectly spherical, you can be pretty sure it was made by a person, even if it looks old and has acquired a patina. Man-made objects are found in odd and unexpected places. Settlements are sometimes abandoned and metallic items get left behind. 19th-Century prospectors ranged all over the world, especially in the American West, looking for precious metals. They often left lumps of smelted metal ore behind them, and that material is frequently mistaken for meteorites. Also, people drop things, forget things, and throw things away. Man-made metallic objects are everywhere.

"How much is my meteorite worth?"
Asking how much a meteorite is worth is like asking how much a diamond or a car is worth. Value is determined by many factors including rarity of type, size, condition, aesthetic appeal, and so on. Despite what you may have heard on television, or read on the internet, your meteorite is not worth a million dollars. However, meteorites are valuable to collectors and researchers.

All of these are common Earth rocks which look unusual, but not meteorites
Meteorite identification: meteor-wrong 1
Meteorite identification: meteor-wrong 2
Meteorite identification: meteor-wrong 3
This is a terrestrial rock. Note the vesicles (holes caused by escaping gas). Meteorites do not have vesicles
This is a type of hematite. It looks metallic and appears to have a molten surface but does NOT stick to a magnet
This is a terrestrial rock. Note the small holes and granular appearance. Meteorite do not have vesicles
Meteorite identification: meteor-wrong 1
The coarse surface texture of this rock is not consistent with meteorites. Regmaglypts and fusion crust are absent
This is a river pebble. The indentations in this rock were caused by river action and are not regmaglypts
This is a heavy rock which looks metallic but note the small holes caused by escaping gas. Meteorites do not have vesicles

How to determine if you have a genuine meteorite

1) Visual Inspection
If you've read the previous passages you now know much more about meteorites than the average person. Congratulations, and thank you for reading this far. Now, please carefully consider the following: Does your rock exhibit any of the characteristics discussed above? Does it feel heavier than it should? Does it have regmaglypts, or patina, or fusion crust? Compare your rock to the photographs of real meteorites, and meteor-wrongs.

2) The Magnet Test
Please remember, a meteorite will stick easily to a good magnet. If your rock does not adhere to a powerful magnet you almost certainly do not have a meteorite. There are many Earth rocks that also stick to magnets, so if your specimen adheres to a magnet it is not automatically a meteorite, but it's a step in the right direction.

3) The Streak Test
Iron oxides like hematite and magnetite are the Earth rocks most frequently mistaken for meteorites. They are moderately heavy (not nearly as heavy as iron meteorites) and appear metallic in composition. Some specimens will stick to a magnet. If you think you have an iron meteorite, here's an easy test you can perform at home: Take your rock sample and scrape it against the coarse (unglazed) face of a white bathroom tile, just like you were drawing on a blackboard with a piece of chalk. If your rock leaves a reddish or rust-colored streak on the tile it is likely hematite. If it leaves a dark gray streak it is likely magnetite. This test only works on iron meteorites (not stones). A genuine iron meteorite will typically leave NO STREAK, or possibly a very faint grayish mark. Please note that the streak test only works on iron meteorites.

4) The Nickel Test
Most meteorites contain a significant percentage of nickel and iron. Naturally occurring Earth rocks do not, so if your specimen tests positive for nickel it may be a meteorite. We do not use or recommend store bought nickel testing kits. In our experience they have not been effective in testing for meteoric nickel. A professional analysis from an assay lab is the best method to use in order to determine nickel content.

We hope you have found this identification guide to be helpful. If you would like to learn more about meteorites or meteorite hunting, we recommend the book Meteorite Hunting: How To Find Treasure From Space. Again, please do not send us photos of suspected rocks, or call our office with identification questions. If, after reading this page, you still think you have a meteorite, please do a web search for companies currently offering meteorite identification services.

Disclaimer: By contacting us, sending us photographs, or specimens, you agree that Aerolite Meteorites LLC is not responsible for loss or damage to ANY materials sent to them. All materials sent to us are entirely the responsibility of the sender. Any emails or digital photos sent to Aerolite Meteorites may be used by us for demonstration, educational or other purposes.