Revised 2010 Edition
by Eric Wichman
Most people don’t know you can own a meteorite much less find one practically in your own back yard. There's a very good chance there's been meteorites found very near where you are right now. There's been over 50,000 meteorites found in the world and 1600 of those have been found right in the united States.
Know Where To Hunt For Meteorites The first thing you need is a place to hunt. If you live in the southwest U.S. you are in prime meteorite hunting territory. This area of the country lends itself to the preservation of meteoritic material. Because of the southwest’s arid climate, and low annual rainfall, meteorites are more preserved here than in any other part of the U.S. Meteorites contain iron and iron is prone to corrosion, therefore a dryer climate will preserve meteorites for a longer period of time.
That’s why more meteorites are found in the Sahara desert than any other place on earth!
Northwest African meteorites (better known as NWA meteorites) are plentiful because the climate is perfect. The Sahara desert covers the entire northern region of Africa!
Anywhere there’s “Old Ground” and the climate is arid, you’ll most likely find meteorites. They’re hard to find and rarer than gold but when you find one there’s a chance there’s more in that area.
Meteorite Hunting: How To Find Meteorites
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Where NOT To Hunt: First and foremost. Do not hunt on land you don't have permission to hunt on. This is perhaps the most important rule in the meteorite world. Trespassing is illegal. Don't do it. People that do, make it harder on the rest of the meteorite community, and it can tarnish reputations and turn people off to the professional meteorite hunters that do follow the rules.
Also, not all terrain lends itself to meteorite hunting. Swamps wouldn’t be a good place to look, but anywhere that is relatively dry, with old ground is a great place to hunt. You can find meteorites just about anywhere on the planet. The Willamette meteorite for example (the largest meteorite ever found in the United States at 15.5 tons) was found in Oregon of all places. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Oregon but it rains there in the forested areas almost daily. A lot of the Willamette had weathered away but it still is the biggest meteorite yet to be found in the U.S.
If a chondrite (stone meteorite) falls in the ocean, the iron in it breaks down and will crumble into nothing in a short period of time. Water, humidity, and wind erosion contribute greatly to a meteorite’s demise.
A Little About Me I've been a wilderness junky all my life. I was born and raised in the sticks and spent my entire childhood and early adult life stomping around the wilds of Florida so I know a thing or two about hunting, and the outdoors. My dad was a sergeant in the Army and he raised us like little soldiers. He always told my sister and I to “Always Be Prepared”. We spent so much time in the wilderness it was like a second home to us. We would go on hunting trips and survival trips like other people went to the movies. This was great training for meteorite hunting!
Back to finding meteorites… The first thing you need is a place to hunt. Not all terrain lends itself to meteorite hunting. Florida is a considerably different environment than the Southwest United States. Swamps, marshes, beaches and dense forests cover most of Florida.
Meteorites are typically found in arid, dry, desert locales. However you can find meteorites just about anywhere on the planet. The Willamette meteorite for example (the largest meteorite ever found in the United States) was found in Oregon of all places. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Oregon but it rains there in the forested areas almost daily. This meteorite was found in a forest, and a lot of it had weathered away but it still is the biggest meteorite yet to be found in the U.S.
Meteorites Are Cosmic Treasures: Meteorites are rarer than gold and some are more valuable than diamonds, but they are nothing like the precious metals and stones. You must keep in mind they're not from our planet. They're from out there, in the vast reaches of space. They fly across our solar system and crash into Earth and the feeling one has when one holds a meteorite in their hand is wondrous.
Tools Of The Meteorite Hunter: Let’s start your meteorite hunting adventures off right. You need the equipment, which costs money so you know you'll need a job. Unless of course you're super rich, but then you could buy any meteorite you wanted. Here's a short list of some of the tools you'll need to make you meteorite hunting successful.
You'll need this stuff as a start:
A Meteorite Stick: Basically a golf club with the head chopped off with a magnet attached on the tip. You'll use thisto touch and pick up meteorites on the surface of the ground you are hunting. Meteorite sticks are only good for 3 things, picking up meteorites, as a makeshift walking stick, and to whack those pesky rattle snakes that want to make your leg their lunch.
A Good Metal Detector: You can find meteorites with a metal detector. But not just any metal detector will do. Though meteorites have iron and can be located with cheap discount store metal detectors, the serious meteorite hunter will spend a little more on a metal detector specifically designed for gold detecting. They're more sensitive and tend to find meteorites at much greater depths.
Whites, Fisher, and Minelab all make great metals detectors that you can use to find meteorites. The Gold Bug Series from Fisher are great for meteorite hunting. Many meteorite hunters like the White's GMT, or even the V-SAT. You can expect to spend about $250 to $450 for a good used detector that will find meteorites.
Buy yourself a few good rare earth disc magnets from these great online suppliers of neodymium magnets.
GPS Location Device: You absolutely need on of these. It's imperative you have on in the field. Not just for marking the location of your meteorite find for classification, but it’s a must have for wilderness navigation.
Recording meteorite location data is vital to preserving scientifically valuable information. It's a rule in the meteorite community that when you find a meteorite to record it's coordinates, take a photo of the meteorite "in-situ" and the location where it was found, all before removing the stone from it's resting place. This helps ensure that the strewnfield data is preserved and that the information isn't lost.
Garmin is by far one of the best GPS devices money can buy. I'm am of course a bit biased when it comes to equipment. There are other good brands on there but few with the technology Garmin GPS systems offer at such reasonable prices.
A Good Quality Small Pick Axe (Dig Tool): You’ll use this to dig up your meteorites of course. (Attach A Strong Rare Earth Magnet To The Dig Tool with JBweld or some other epoxy resin, or liquid plastic.) This aids in finding the meteorite faster as most meteorites are magnetic due to the high iron content!
A small pick axe or dig tool is simply a must for meteorite hunting. Some meteorites are not magnetic but these are harder to find even with a metal detector, and will not give a signal or a very weak signal when using a metal detector. K&J Magnetics sells Neodymium magnets at very reasonable prices. Visit their site here: Rare Earth Neodymium Magnets
Basic Desert/Outdoor Gear: Maps, Backpack, waist pack, a good knife, multi-tool, rope (parachute cord), water, water, water, food, first aid kit, snake bite kit, tire repair kit. If you are traveling by ATV, or 4X4 it’s good to have a tow strap, shovel, two way radios, and extra fuel and water. This list is not all inclusive, you’ll also need a compass, extra batteries for both the radios and GPS, a flashlight, lighter, matches, plastic baggies, trash bags, and a good book to curl up next to the campfire with. A survival kit is always a good idea as well. This can have fishing line, hooks, a few extra matches, band-aids, alcohol swabs, etc… You get the idea. Don’t forget the cell phone!
Finding An Area To Hunt Meteorites
Once you have all the equipment you need, then you need an area to hunt. This is where good solid research comes in. Do a Google search for the keyword phrase “meteorite database” or visit the Meteoritical Society’s website here: http://tin.er.usgs.gov/meteor/ There you will find a database chock full of great information on ALL the classified finds on the US and the world for that matter, complete with GPS coordinates, and Google Earth links for mapping and satellite photos. You can’t beat this for quality in-depth information.
NOTE: Don’t just go searching coordinates you find in the database! Some property may be private State or Federal land and you cannot hunt there without permission or making sure you are allowed to hunt there. Get the land owners permission BEFORE you start your hunt. If you are hunting Federal land be sure you have maps! Make sure you know where you are and that it’s legal to hunt that location. This article is NOT meant as legal advise. CYA people. Use common sense. Don’t hunt land you don’t own without permission. Simple as that.
OK, so now what? You have your equipment, your maps, your trusty meteorite stick and an idea of where to search. Well, get out there and hunt. If you are hunting a dry lake bed it’s very different than hunting in the hills with trees, bushes and big boulders to navigate around.
Meteorite Hunting With A Metal Detector
Familiarize yourself with your metal detector. Buy a few meteorites for calibrating your detector. Once out in the field you can “throw down” the meteorite tune your detector and your off hunting meteorite. Don’t forget to pick the meteorite back up!
Swing Low & Slow When you’re swinging your detector keep it low to the ground and swing slow and steady until you get used to it. Once you get the hang of it you can speed things up a bit.
Cover Lots Of Ground: There’s a lot of unsearched ground out there. If you grid the area well enough you will find a meteorite, and once you find one you can slow down a bit and search the area a bit more. If you don’t find any more, move on. After a while you will begin to recognize false targets.
Use Your Eyes: Don’t forget to “look” for the meteorites as well.
Look for the meteorites with your eyes as well and the detector. Meteorites don't look like Earth rocks. Look for rocks that are out of place or just look odd for the area you are hunting. Look for the dark black or brown fusion crust. A weathered meteorite that has been on Earth for a long time will typically turn a red-brown color and sometimes will be shiny due to wind blown sand erosion.
And remember very few magnetic rocks are meteorites, but most meteorites are magnetic.
How To Identify Meteorites
Identifying Meteorites Once you find a stone you think is a meteorite there are a series of tests you can use to determine if your stone could possibly be a meteorite.
To understand how to identify a meteorite you must first know the types of meteorites there are. There is a set of identifying characteristics that most meteorites exhibit that will aid in identification.
Iron & Stone Meteorites Typically most meteorites contain iron and tend to be magnetic. Even Stone type meteorites. They are usually heavier and much more dense than ordinary terrestrial stones due in part to their high iron content. Meteorites contain a higher concentrations of nickel than ordinary Earth rocks as well. You can use an off-the-shelf nickel allergy test to test for the presence of nickel.
When viewed under magnification the interior of a stone meteorite will show not only the iron flecks inside the stone, but there are small spherical mineral inclusions called chondrules that will be scattered throughout the matrix. The matrix is the material surrounding the chondrules and iron.
Types of Meteorites There are 3 main types of meteorites. Stone meteorites, iron meteorites, and stony iron meteorites. As the names suggest the stony iron meteorites usually consist of a 50/50 mixture of iron and silicate minerals. There are two types of stony iron meteorites; pallasites, and mesosiderites and they are a very rare type of meteorite and make up about 1%-5% of all meteorites.
Iron meteorites make up about 5% of all known falls, and though this number will vary from source to source most will agree that this is probably accurate.
Stone meteorites (Ordinary Chondrites) make up the majority, about 80% to 95% of all meteorites that fall to earth. They are called chondrites due to the small spherical inclusions called chondrules. These minerals are formed in the vacuum and zero gravity environment in space, hence the reason for their shape.
Freshly fallen meteorites will also exhibit what’s called fusion crust. This is a thin veneer of black material that is formed on the surface of the stone as the meteoroid enters our atmosphere. Usually this dark black fusion crust looks very much like charcoal on the outside, and if a meteorite is a stone type then they typically have a lighter colored stone interior that looks much like concrete.
Thumbprints Another very important indicator that a stone might be a meteorite are regmaglypts, or thumbprints. These are indentations, ridges, scoops, and depressions on the surface of the meteorite formed through a process called ablation. This happens while the meteoroid passes through our atmosphere.
The extremely high temperatures that the meteoroid endures melts away less dense material from the surface of the stone and this creates the rounded curves and depressions known as thumbprints. Thumbprints are called such because the human thumb usually fits nicely in these depressions.
What if I think I have a Meteorite? There is much more to identifying meteorites than simply using the techniques mentioned here, but if you have a stone that meets all the characteristics then you just might have a meteorite.
The best thing to do would be to contact a university like ASU (Arizona State University) or a meteorite expert which can identify meteorites. There are lots of professional meteorite hunters and dealers online that are happy to help you identify or give you advice on a possible meteorite find.
Meteorite Classification A meteorite, to be eligible for a name must be classified by a lab and approved by the Meteoritical Society. Once classified by a lab, a meteorite is eligible for a name to be determined usually relating to the place of the find. A perfect example would be the Sikhote Alin meteorite which is an iron meteorite found in the Sikhote Alin mountains in Siberia, Russia. PAGE WITH NUMEROUS CLASSIFICATION LINKS
Meteorites Are All Around Us Meteorites have been found everywhere on this planet, Antarctica, Africa, North and South America, Russia, China, Europe and Australia. In fact Australia is a great place to hunt for meteorites. Hunting meteorites is one thing, finding them is quite another story. If you'd like to learn more about meteorites Meteorites USA has a plethora of meteorite information, articles, photos, videos, maps, and even has some meteorites for collectors as well as a meteorite newsletter.
© Copyright 2010 Eric Wichman - Meteorites USA
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Credit/link should read "What is a meteorite strewnfield? - by MeteoritesUSA.com"
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