A Comprehensive Guide to Meteorite Identification

We recommend that you start by reading this page. The answers to many questions such as "What is a meteorite?" "How do I identify my suspected meteorite?" can be found here.

If you have a suspected meteorite for sale (for example a rock that you found), please read this page carefully, as it contains a lot of useful information. If you are interested in learning more about the subject, we recommend our Is This A Meteorite? Field Testing Guide — a detailed and fully-illustrated identification guide, available as a PDF file for only $0.99. Contact us for details.

Meteorites cannot be identified over the phone — they usually need to be inspected in person — so please do not call the numbers listed on this web site as they are for our Sales and Media departments only. Our Sales and Media staff are not trained in meteorite identification.

If you have a meteorite for sale that has already been positively identified and classified — that means it has a name and/or associated paperwork or identification card and is listed in the Meteoritical Bulletin Database, please contact us directly. If your suspected meteorite does not have a name or paperwork please continue reading.

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 an 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. We believe that a modest portion of new 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. Please note: Meteorite identification is not the same as classification. Classification adds financial value to a specimen and adds important information to the academic body of knowledge.

[above] An iron meteorite uncovered during one of our expeditions


Most meteorites are attracted to magnets
Nearly all meteorites contain a significant amount of extraterrestrial iron, even those that look similar to terrestrial rocks (stony meteorites). Much 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. 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.

[above] Most meteorites will adhere strongly to a good magnet

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.

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
Most 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. Our meteorite hunting kit contains a rare earth magnet and other tools used by professional meteorite hunters.

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

Fusion crust
Recently fallen meteorites will have fusion crust on the outside. This is a thin black rind, sometimes shiny, sometimes matte black, which forms while falling meteoroids are super-heated 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 usually appear 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 typically not as well defined as in irons. Meteorites, particularly irons, may also show angular features such as points and ridges, and flowlines which are also caused by melting. Many of the suspected meteorwrongs we receive are common terrestrial volcanic rocks.

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. We recommend that you do not cut up your suspected meteorite, or otherwise damage its appearance. A meteorite with a beautiful 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.

Chondrules are small, colorful, grain-like spheres which occur in most stone meteorites, hence the name chondrites. Chondrites are the most abundant type of meteorite and chondrules are not found in earth rocks.

Rust or patina
Meteorites that 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.

Most potential meteorites spin and tumble as they plummet through the atmosphere. Occasionally, one will maintain a fixed orientation towards the surface of our planet, causing the leading edge to ablate into a shield, nose cone, or bullet shape. When meteorites ablate, some of their mass is removed as a result of vaporization. Meteorites which display such features are quite rare and are described as oriented.

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, CEO of Aerolite Meteorites and star of Science Channel's award-winning series Meteorite Men, has written the definitive guidebook to searching for space rocks. Meteorite Hunting: How To Find Treasure From Space won an IPPY Award as one of the best independently-published science books of the year, and can be ordered online or directly from us. This groundbreaking work is packed with color photographs, maps and diagrams and also contains an excellent section on meteorite identification. It includes detailed discussions about different types of equipment, hunting strategies, research, and more. We also carry meteorite hunting equipment, including our popular Meteorite Hunting Kit, the same metal detectors we used on Meteorite Men. We are always happy to assist with advice and information on meteorite hunting equipment. Learn more about meteorite hunting equipment >>>

[above] Our Meteorite Hunting Kit was named
one of the "Top Science Gifts of the Year" by Astronomy magazine

"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 that 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 typically stop ablating (burning) seven to ten miles above our planet's surface, then fall in what is known as "dark flight," according to the normal acceleration due to gravity. It is very cold at high altitudes, 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 they appear to 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) far up in the sky — typically seven to ten miles above the Earth's surface. If an observer witnesses a bright fireball, and the flame goes out while it is directly overhead, a meteorite may land relatively close to the observer. When we watch a bright shooting star apparently land 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. Such a phenomenon can be frustrating because it does look as if the meteorite landed "just over there." However, it probably landed hundreds of miles away due to the extremely high speed of travel. Another thing to consider is that when a meteorite lands near observers, those witnesses often report hearing loud sonic booms, and/or "whizzing" noises. If no sound accompanied the spectacle, then the meteor was probably a considerable distance away. But at least you had the privilege of witnessing a real fireball!

"I found one of those rare meteorites that doesn't stick to a magnet"
Unfortunately, that is unlikely. Achondrites (stony meteorites without chondrules) contain little or no iron and will attract little, or not at all, to a magnet. Even the most experienced meteorite hunters who have found hundreds of specimens rarely find one. Achondrites look much like earth rocks and, when found were usually either witnessed falls, or recovered on old desert surfaces devoid of terrestrial rocks. If you've found a shiny metallic-looking rock that doesn't stick to a magnet, it is likely 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, strangely, materialized on a lawn or driveway during the night. We agree that this is an intriguing mystery, but please consider the fact that 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"
Meteorites are rich in iron and iron decomposes in moist environments or near water, especially salt water. It is therefore 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 may have been throw from a train, or used in railroad construction.

"I found a heavy piece of metal that is round and looks like a cannon ball"
We have never seen a perfectly round meteorite. If your piece of iron is spherical, it is probably man-made, even if it looks old and has acquired a patina. Man-made objects are frequently found in odd and unexpected places. 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, throw things away; they also abandon campsites, villages and even towns. 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 car or a house is worth. Value is determined by many factors including rarity of type, size, condition, aesthetic appeal, and so on. Meteorites have financial value to collectors and scientific value to researchers. Meteorite values can range from a few dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. If we determine that you have a genuine meteorite, we can estimate its value for you.

All of these are common Earth rocks which are certainly look unusual, but not meteorites. We know it can be difficult to someone outside the profession to distinguish a meteorite from a meteorwrong, that is why we offer this page as assistance and an inspection service for a nominal fee.
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

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