Meteorites

Meteorites

Do you know...

...what meteorites are and where they come from?

Meteorites are chunks of rocks or metal that fall from space. They are named after the place they are found. Most meteorites are very small but they can be huge and weigh more than a car, like the one on the right.

Where in space are they from?
Mundrabilla iron meteorite on display at the Western Australia Museum © Gretchen Benedix

Mundrabilla iron meteorite on display at the Western Australia Museum © Gretchen Benedix

Most meteorites come from the asteroid belt. This is a region between Mars and Jupiter that contains many rock fragments broken off from asteroids. There are 31,000 meteorites that we know about and all but 139 came from here.

Non-asteroid meteorites

A small number of meteorites are made from particles from other planets. They are known as non-asteroid meteorites.

Some of these come from Mars. Scientists know this because small fragments of glass in these meteorites contain particles of atmosphere from the planet it came from. Martian meteorites are not as old as those from the asteroid belt.

A small number of non-asteroid meteorites come from the moon. They were broken off when asteroids and comets hit the surface.

The Barwell meteorite

The Barwell meteorite, the biggest meteorite to fall on Britain.

Mind your head

Some people claim they have been hit by meteorites as they fall from the sky. This is extremely rare and many cases are unproven.

The first human we know to be hit by a meteorite is Ann Hodges who lived in Alabama, USA. In 1954, a meteorite crashed through her ceiling and struck her after bouncing off her radio. She was badly bruised and had a lucky escape as the meteorite weighed 4kg, about the same as a domestic cat.

The oldest report is from 1911 in Egypt when a dog was said to have been killed by a Martian meteorite.

The Barwell meteorite was the biggest to fall over Britain. It broke up and fell as a shower of stones over the Leicestershire village of Barwell on Christmas eve, 1965.

Iron meteorite cut to show the structure inside

Iron meteorite cut to show the structure inside.

What types are there?

There are three types of meteorite, stony, iron and stony-iron meteorites.

Stony meteorites

If you happen to see a meteorite falling through the sky, it’s most likely to be a stony meteorite. There are two groups, chondrites and achondrites.

Chondrites are ancient. They haven’t changed since they formed during the birth of the solar system 4,568 million years ago. They contain bits of dust from when the planets were forming. This dust helps scientists understand more about events at that time.

Achondrites have changed. They form when other rocks melt and then harden again.

Iron meteorites

You are most likely to find an iron meteorite as they are shiny and easy to spot among other rocks. They are made up of mostly iron and some nickel. The image on the right is an iron meteorite.

Stony-iron meteorites

The stony-iron meteorites are the rarest. As the name suggests, they are made up of stone and metal.