Meteorites

What are meteorites?

Meteorites are rocks from Space which enter the Earth’s atmosphere and don’t completely burn up before landing on the surface. All meteorites come from within our Solar System. The vast majority of meteorites are rocky fragments from the asteroid belt, between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars. Radiometric dating shows nearly all meteorites formed about 4,500 million years ago, at the same time as the Solar System, including Earth. A few meteorites from Mars are younger. There are also meteorites derived from the Moon.

Two specimens of the Murchison meteorite

Two specimens of the Murchison meteorite which fell at Murchison, 80 km north of Melbourne, on the 29 September 1969. Murchison is a rare type of meteorite classified as a carbonaceous chondrite. Also featured, is a perfect flanged australite button from Port Campbell.
Photographer: Frank Coffa / Source: Museum Victoria

What effects does a meteorite have on Earth?

Meteorites have been colliding with Earth since it formed. There have been many very large impacts in that time. Some of these may have caused major extinction of many life forms. The remains of several hundred very large meteorite impact craters can be seen today on very old parts of the Earth’s crust. In Australia, there are about 25 impact craters preserved.

Meteorites enter the Earth’s atmosphere travelling at more than 11 km per second. Frictional heating causes a fireball in the upper atmosphere. Small meteorites may burn up and large loosely bound meteorites may break up. Sonic booms and strange whistling, humming or crackling sounds may occur.

Meteorites can fall anywhere on Earth. Those falling into the oceans or in forests are hardly ever found. Meteorites seen to fall and collected immediately are known as falls; those found long afterwards are known as finds. Like all rocks, meteorites begin to weather on the surface due to reaction with water and oxygen. Eventually they break down and disappear into the soil.

How do you identify and classify meteorites?

Meteorites consist mainly of common minerals which are also found in rocks on Earth. However the proportions of these minerals, and the textures they form, are different to rocks found in the Earth’s crust. Sophisticated chemical comparisons must be made in order to identify Martian or Lunar meteorites. Meteorites are divided into three broad groups, stony, iron and stony-iron. Stony meteorites containing millimetre-sized spheres known as chondrules are called chondrites; those without are called achondrites. Within these broad groups there are many different classes of meteorites.

A meteorite name is chosen which is based on the nearest named location to where the meteorite was found. The data and name are sent to an international committee for appraisal. If they are approved, the meteorite is entered in an international catalogue.

Meteorites have great scientific interest, as they provide us with clues on the origin of the Solar System, as well as of planets like Earth. They also have a monetary value, as there are many meteorite collectors around the world who buy and trade meteorites.

Are meteorites protected?

Federal laws protect meteorites found in Australia and it is an offence to export one without a permit. In Western Australia and South Australia legislation means that meteorites are the property of the Government and must be lodged with an appropriate Museum. In other States, the finder is able to keep a meteorite.

Visitor Information

Museum Victoria has a collection of meteorites from around the world, including Australia and Victoria. Museum staff also conduct research on meteorites and provide an identification service.

Further Reading

Bevan, A. and McNamara, K. 1993. Australia’s Meteorite Craters. Western Australian Museum

Carmen, H. and Kapitany, T. 1995. Collecting Meteorites. Hill of Contentment Publishing Company Pty Ltd. Melbourne.

Comments (27)

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cece 9 March, 2010 10:21
i just want to get this clear.were meteorites formed at the same time as our Earth?
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Discovery Centre 15 March, 2010 13:28

Hi Cece, most meteorites formed at the same time as earth.  The majority come from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  A few are from other sources such as Mars and the Moon and have a younger age than those from the asteroid belt. 

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Al 3 July, 2010 12:41
How many meteorites are found in Australia? I could note: Henbury, Cranbourne, Murchison; is there a complete list available?
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Discovery Centre 6 July, 2010 16:08
Hi Al, try the Australian Museum's meteors and meteorites site for information on the frequency of meteorite falls and the article 'Meteorites recovered from Australia' from the Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia, 79: 33-42, 1996 for a listing of 474 distinct and authenticated meteorites falls across Australia to that date, with an interesting map of the location of falls. More recent information can be found in the publication Catalogue of Meteorites 5th Edition 2000, by Monica M Grady.
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Nicole 22 August, 2010 22:14
Hi...My son was hit on top of the head by a small rock that bounced off a shed last night! It is a very unusual looking rock. Is there somewhere I can have it tested?
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Discovery Centre 24 August, 2010 12:33

Hi Nicole, the Discovery Centre has a free identification service, so please feel free to bring the rock in and leave it at the Melbourne Museum Discovery Centre for one of our geologists to examine.

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Geoff 5 December, 2010 18:29
If a metal detector shows a stone as having high metal is it likely to be a meteorite?
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Discovery Centre 11 December, 2010 14:45

Hi Geoff, only a chemical analysis will determine whether a stone with high metal content is a meteorite. This link to the Australian Museum site here might also be of interest. 

 

 

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Bud Kaczor 23 December, 2010 12:11
I have been to Leonora, WA 4 times gold prospecting. I can no longer swing the big detector to find gold and would like to vacation there to look for meteorites in the Murchison Field. How may I obtain a permit that is needed to export meteorites. I do have a Miners Right.
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Discovery Centre 26 December, 2010 10:27

Hi Bud, we suspect you will need a fossickers license/miners right in WA and Victorian licenses don't apply in WA.Your best bet is to contact the WA Department of Mines here for advice. In terms of exporting the meteorites they are governed by state legislation so again either the Department should be able to advise or they may suggest you contact the Curator at the WA Museum. 

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Raul 7 March, 2011 20:02
Do comets and asteroids become classified as meteorites once they've passed through the atmosphere and hit the Earth's surface?
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Discovery Centre 12 March, 2011 16:00

Hi Raul,

If bits survive the passage through the atmosphere, then the simple answer is yes, they are classified as meteorites.

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penny kovac 15 January, 2012 05:35
My son would like to search for meteorite fragments these holidays at Murchison. What area should he search & if he actually finds anything should he donate the find to the Museum?
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Discovery Centre 15 January, 2012 12:06

Hello Penny,

If your son does happen to find a meteorite you can bring it to the Discovery Centre at Melbourne Museum and we will assess the specimen, depending on the outcome our Geologists will discuss the next step in the process.

Good luck with your search!

Discovery Centre 13 March, 2012 10:36
Hi Daniel, our Geologist thinks this may be a dry dam as opposed to a crater.
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Zen 14 January, 2013 16:12
Hello, I have found a rock which I suspect is possibly a meteorite. Can I email your geologist a picture or two? Cheerz_z!
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Discovery Centre 14 January, 2013 16:57

Hi Zen - no, sorry; we cannot provide identifications for geological specimens such as meteorites via images, as outlined here.

You would need to be prepared to bring the specimen to us for physical examination, and also be happy to loan the specimen to the Museum for the purposes of identification, that is we wouldn't be able to give you an ID 'on the spot'.

In these cases the Discovery Centre issues you with a receipt that recognises you as the owner of the object/s, so the specimen will be entirely safe in our care while it is being identified, and we would advise you of the collection details from us once it has been identified.

Hope this helps

william sullivan 30 August, 2013 17:42
have located a large fall in nsw water catchment area, is it best to contact a museum and have then chart and record and settle for the finders fee
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Bob Meade 16 September, 2013 13:44
I read on page 18 of the September 2013 to February 2014 issue of your magazine "Six Months Museum Victoria" that you have acquired a Chelyabinsk meteorite. This has caught the attention of my 9-year old son. Could you please tell me if this meteorite can be viewed? Could you please also tell me the approximate dimensions of the fragment and the weight of the piece? Thanks very much!
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Discovery Centre 18 September, 2013 11:29

Hello Bob - many thanks for your interest on this, I've checked with our Geoscience Department regarding your questions, and they've replied as follows:

The specimen weighs 31 g and measures about 3 x 2.5 x 2 cm . The majority of fragments recovered are less than 200 g and more typically in the 50 g and under category. The meteorite is not currently on public display, but there are lots of other interesting meteorites on display in both Melbourne Museum's Dynamic Earth and at the foyer of the Planetarium at Scienceworks.

Hope this helps

Bob Meade 20 September, 2013 13:38
Thanks for that information. I appreciate the time you have taken to find an answer. Bob
Julien 13 October, 2013 00:22
I have found a rock I feel might be a meteorite. Its passed the Magnet test,and the scratch test on the under side of a ceramic tile. Where in melbourne can I get this tested and confirmed
Discovery Centre 18 October, 2013 12:11
Hi Julien, you can bring your specimen to the Discovery Centre which is located on the lower ground level of the Melbourne Museum. You will need to leave the object with us until our Geologist can examine it, (you will be issued with a receipt as proof you have left it with the Museum). The Centre is open from 10 until 4.30 from Tuesday through Saturday. 
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Jason Sawyer 22 January, 2014 21:09
Hello I was wondering if there are any maps of the murchison meteorite landing spot??? I would love to go hunting but I have no idea about the location. Thank you
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Discovery Centre 27 January, 2014 15:54

Hi Jason, Our collection manager has given us the reference for a published map as follows: Lovering, J. F., Le Maitre, R. W., and Chappell, B. W. 1971, Murchison C2 carbonaceous chondrite and its inorganic composition: Nature Phys. Sci., v. 230, no. 1, 18-20.

Gavin 26 February, 2014 17:13
Hello I would like to prospect for meteorites in Victoria. I think I would need a Miners Right and I suspect the same conditions that apply to gold & gem fossicking apply to meteorites? Are there any other conditions or requirements that are special to meteorite finds?. I know about export regulations. Thanks Gavin
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Discovery Centre 1 March, 2014 10:53
Hi Gavin - we asked our senior collection manager of Geosciences, who says that regulations regarding this vary from state to state. Within Victoria, you need a Miner's Right, and as you say, there are restrictions on export. Here is the government page on recreational prospecting.