Meteorite FAQs

Are meteorites hot and molten when they hit the ground?

No. Meteorites are usually no more than warm to the touch when they land. Meteorites only melt around their outside when they pass through the atmosphere due to friction with the air and the magma produced cools as a fusion crust which is usually 1mm thick.

I've seen a fireball land. Will I be able to find a meteorite?

Probably not. Except for very large objects that generate craters, meteorites only produce fireballs at altitudes more than around 40km. So the fireball you saw was probably disappearing over the horizon and only appeared to land.

I've found a strange metallic object. Is it a meteorite?

If it is spherical, non-magnetic and a brassy yellow colour then it is probably a marcasite nodule rather than a meteorite. If it is made from metal then it could be a meteorite but is most likely to be artificial.

Are meteorites radioactive?

No. Meteorites do contain radioactive elements, but not significantly more than any ordinary terrestrial rock.

Where are meteorites from?

Most meteorites are fragments of asteroids produced in collisions with other asteroids. Some meteorites, however, are from the planet Mars or the Moon.

Why do rocks fall from the sky?

Meteorites are small pieces of rocky debris that are captured by the Earth's gravity. They are originally produced as ejecta from impacts on asteroids, Mars and the Moon and their orbits in space can slowly evolve so they cross the path of the Earth.

How old are meteorites?

Meteorites from asteroids are around 4.5 billion years old. Meteorites from the Moon are older than 2.5 billion years and meteorites from Mars may be as young as 65 million years.

Has any one been killed by a meteorite?

There have been no recorded deaths due to a meteorite fall. A dog was, however, reputedly killed by the fall of the Nakhla martian meteorite in Egypt in 1911 and a boy was hit but not seriously injured by the fall of the Mbale meteorite in Uganda in 1992. The chances of witnessing a meteorite fall let alone being hit by one are negligible.

Are we also at risk from the impact of asteroids and comets?

Yes. Asteroid and comet collisions with the Earth are a natural hazard. The hazard is, however, relatively small. More information is available from the Spaceguard Centre and NASA's Near Earth Object Program.

Did a meteorite impact kill the dinosaurs?

The impact of a comet or asteroid 65 million years ago is thought to have caused, or at least contributed to, the extinction of around three-quarters of all species living on Earth at the time. Some scientists think that large volcanic eruptions in India were also involved.

Are there alien bacteria in meteorites?

No living extraterrestrial organisms have been found in meteorites. Living and fossilised terrestrial bacteria have been found.

Are meteorites valuable?

Some rare meteorites are very valuable, such as Martian or lunar meteorites, others are much less so. In general meteorites that have been accepted as official by the meteoritical society are more valuable.

Can I own a meteorite?

There are many dealers who sell meteorites. Common meteorites are quite reasonably priced. It is best to purchase a meteorite that has been officially recognised by the meteoritical society and to obtain and keep details of where and when it fell.

Is it legal to import/export meteorites?

Laws on exporting meteorites vary from country to country. At the present time export of meteorites from Canada, South Africa, Namibia and Australia is banned or requires a permit. You should contact your national customs officials to investigate the legal situation.

I think I've found a meteorite, how do I get it identified?

Please contact our Identification and Advisory Service, which is located in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, or use our online identification forums.