How to spot a meteorite, and what to do if you find one

On the 14th, a large bolide lit up the sky of the Triângulo Mineiro and became one of the most talked about topics of the weekend. It didn't take long and a citizen appeared claiming to have found a rock, or meteorite, generated by that bolide.

Supposed meteorite found in Minas. Image: Playback / Twitter

Very witty, the boy displayed the alleged meteorite on social media, including the moment he gave a bath on the rock with water and detergent. That made a lot of people shiver, but not those who know a little about the subject and quickly realized that that rock didn't come from space. Do you know why?

In this text, we will present some tips on how to identify a meteorite and what to do if you find one of these visitors from space.

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Meteorites face a scorching journey

First, to identify a meteorite, you have to imagine what would happen to a rock if it were subjected to jets of superheated plasma at tens of thousands of kilometers per hour. Because that's exactly what happens when a space rock passes through our atmosphere.

In this process, called atmospheric ablation, the high velocity of the rock compresses, heats and ionizes atmospheric gases, generating heated plasma at temperatures that reach 10,000 degrees. This plasma will vaporize, from the outside in, much of the rock.

In this way, the little that is left will present a dark, very thin crust (less than 1 mm) and with a burnt aspect, the so-called fusion crust . It is usually a smooth surface, as the most prominent parts of the rock are stripped away and smoothed by ablation. That's why meteorites don't have the “poop” shape seen in the image of the supposed rock from Minas.

Rock in the shape of “poop” found in Minas that, for sure, is not a meteorite. It is probably slag, a residue from industrial iron smelting processes. Image: Playback / Twitter

But they can have small depressions on the surface, called remaglitos. They're like fingerprints, and they're deeper in metallic meteorites.

Remaglites in the Santa Filomena meteorite. Image: Michael Farmer

And speaking of metals, 95% of meteorites have some attraction to magnets. That's because, most of them have a small amount of iron and nickel in their composition. An exception is metallics, which are basically made only of iron and nickel.

The interior of a meteorite can vary a lot, but most of them, the rocky ones, have a clear interior and with many chondrules, small spheres of material. The inside of a ferrous meteorite, which can be observed by rubbing a small end of it with sandpaper, should look like steel.

Detail of the melting crust and interior of the Porangaba Meteorite. Image: Renato Poltronieri / BRAMON

There are still a few other rarer meteorites that may have some characteristics different from these. But if you know how to identify the melting crust, the remaglites, the attraction to magnets, and the inside of the rock, you can identify most meteorites. And what to do if you believe you have found one of these space rocks?

First, you don't have to be afraid to handle them. They are neither radioactive nor toxic. Meteorites are harmless. Scientists, on the other hand, can have unpredictable reactions if they catch you washing a meteorite with soap and water.

So, never wash off a meteorite. Don't even make tea out of it, because meteorites have no healing properties. They also do not transmit diseases or bring bad luck. But, a meteorite usually brings a lot of luck to whoever finds it and treats it very well.

In 2021, residents of Punggur, Indonesia, doused a meteorite in an aquarium and were serving its water as a healing elixir. Image: Reproduction / infolampungterkini

And to treat a meteorite well is to keep it away from water and moisture. You can store it in a jar or plastic bag, keeping it in a cool, airy place. Take lots of pictures of it, with good lighting, but no flash. Send these photos to a specialist for analysis, along with the coordinates of the place where you found the rock.

Location where the first Porangaba meteorite fragment was found in 2015. Image: Renato Poltronieri / BRAMON

Here in Brazil, BRAMON, the Brazilian Meteor Observation Network, usually receives these photos, and has several specialists who can analyze them and guide you on how to proceed, if they confirm the spatial origin of your rock. The important thing is to know how to identify and treat your alien well!

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The post How to identify a meteorite, and what to do if you find one appeared first on Olhar Digital.

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