New England Meteoritical Services meteorite testing information.

Meteoritetesting.org

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Frequently Asked Questions about meteorite testing.

The most important page on this site, read carefully

 
 

For most people, meteorites are not their daily focus - until they think that they may have found one.

If you're thinking about sending a sample for testing then hopefully this site and FAQ page will answer your questions. If not then send us an email at Lab@meteorlab.com

More questions will be added over time and the existing ones, if needed, refined for clarity.

Refresh this page to see any new questions.

 

#1. Will my samples be returned?


 

Yes, all samples sent from within the USA are returned. For International mailing we ask for the return postage and we'll send them back. Please keep the sample size small to reduce postage costs. 5 to 10 grams is fine.



 
 

#2. Will my sample be damaged in testing?


 

No, we do not do what is known as "destructive testing". We may make a small slice on the oxidized exterior to examine the interior mineralogy but even this is not usually noticeable.



 
 

#3. Can I find a meteorite with my metal detector?



 

Yes, around 95% of all stone meteorites contain some degree or percentage of ferric iron. Metal detectors will react to this. However, there is also quite a bit of felsic iron in Earth's mineralogy, it's the 4th most common element in the Earth's crust. So, while Earth rocks do contain varying amounts of iron it's mostly in an oxidized, non metallic form. This is different than the "free" iron seen in meteorites but some metal detectors will detect this. Metal detectors will also react to iron-rich sediments such as hematite, magnetite, goethite and to many foundry artifacts and byproducts.



 
 

#4. I want to register and name my meteorite with our family name. Can I do this?



 

Accepted meteorites are listed and registered in the Meteoritical Society database through approval of the Society's Nomenclature Committee. They are named after the town or county where they were found or fell. Meteorites that are found in other countries can be named after the town, province, or even area, i.e., "Nullarbor Plain", in Australia. It is the same for meteorites found in remote areas - Allan Hills, Antartica for example. So, probably not, unless your family name is the town or county where it was found or fell.



 
 

#5. I want to send 9 samples for meteorite testing. Can I send them all in one package and use one check?



 

Yes, you can send as many samples as you like in one package and use one check to pay the testing charge. Please include your email address in the package so that we can contact you if there are any questions.



 
 

#6. If this is an Outreach Program then why do we have to pay for testing?



 

The testing and examination cost is a maintenance charge that enables us to continue the program offered and to return your samples (within the United States) with additional support information.



 
 

#7. Actual email : "You tested my sample and said it was not a meteorite but you also said that you did not make thin sections or test for nickel in my sample. Then how do you know it's not a meteorite? I expect an immediate refund because you did not do complete and thorough testing. "



 

The short answer is that we know because you sent us a double terminated quartz crystal, also known as a "Herkimer Diamond", found in Herkimer, New York. We understand that many people are not familiar with the mineral diversity seen in terrestrial rocks but for us this is recognizable geology. It is the same if we receive a garnet-studded rock (eclogite) or a limestone (a fossil-laden sedimentary rock) for example. This is known geology that can be quickly identified without additional testing, and are not meteorites.

But it's the longer answer that's important here. There is a lot of misleading information on the web about meteorites. It's not that the information is wrong but more that it's easily taken out of context. People will read that the "only way to know if it's a meteorite is with thin sectioning (a 30 micron thick sample on a glass slide), SEM testing (scanning electron microscopy), and chemical testing, including nickel" because, as some write, "if you find nickel in a sample then it's most likely a meteorite". In truth, these different tests are done mostly for the data needed for the classification phase of a meteorite or with samples that simply do not fit into any known meteoritical classification system. They are tests needed to determine classification, type, and not generally needed for the initial examination and determination.



 
 

#8. Do you test all samples for nickel?



 

Many websites write about the need for nickel testing of all specimens. This is miss-leading.

Nickel testing is important for some submitted samples but not all. Finding nickel in the range of 4 to 30 percent Ni in an iron sample is a pretty good beginning argument for an iron meteorite.

We receive a huge diversity of samples sent to us from around the world from people, museums, and universities who believe or hope that they may have a meteorite. Some of these - granites, lava's, limestones, magnetites, hematite, foundry objects and "slag" byproducts, etc., are all easily identified in a few minutes with microscopy. Nickel testing is not needed for samples of known geology.

So, no, we do not test everything for Nickel.



 
 

#9. I found a meteorite, how do I sell it.



 

The first thing that you need to do is to have it examined and verified as a meteorite from a testing lab that verifies and or classifies meteorites. If examined and tested by us, and determined to be a meteorite, you will receive the paperwork that describes it as a meteorite and if possible, an initial probable classification. You can then sell it as an unclassified meteorite if you like. Additionally, you can move towards formal classification and registration with the Meteoritical Society's database, and then sell it as a classified and registered meteorite. This second part, acceptance into the Society's database, can take several months to up to a year or more. It is not part of the initial verification.



 
 

#10. We saw this land, it was too hot to touch, but you said it is not a meteorite? Then what is it?


 

Well, we don't doubt what people who send us samples believe but landing hot is not supported in actual witnessed Falls. See, Fusion crust (Fusion Crust)



 
 

#11. How large a sample do you need for testing.



 

Small samples are fine, 5 to 10 grams or the size of a nickel or quarter are ideal.



 
 

#12. I can't find a university to test my sample. They won't respond to my emails, why not?



 

It's a simple lack of time, funding, and staff. Some are still testing but a response may take several weeks to a year to hear back. For a listing of some that still do, go to: Testing Labs (Testing Labs)



 
 

#13. I found a Martian meteorite, it looks exactly like "Black Beauty"!



 

The "Black Beauty" referred to here is a recently found meteorite classified as of Martian origin. Sold in Morocco and also known as "NWA 7034", it is the only one of its classification ever found. The likelihood that you have found another "Black Beauty" is not quite zero but is about as close to it as one can get. Still, it should be examined to put your mind at rest. And who knows………..



 
 

#14. My father gave me a meteorite with an old "Wards" label. Can you appraise it?



 

Yes, let's make sure that the meteorite is the one described on the Ward's label.

Dr. Henry Ward (1834-1906) was a Professor at the University of Rochester in New York. He founded "Ward's Natural Science" sometime around 1865. He collected and sold specimens of natural history to universities and private collectors.

Let's take a look at the label first though, it may be worth more than the specimen.



 
 

#15. I think I found a meteorite. It's heavier than any other rocks in the area, has a burnt looking covering but does not attract a magnet. I broke off an edge and can see shiny flakes. Do you think that I should send it for testing?



 

Yes, for two reasons.

Not because of your description and that you think it's a meteorite but because it's important enough to you to pose the question and to take the time to write to us.

The second reason is that if you don't send it for testing then you'll always be wondering. The testing service is very inexpensive so send it and find out. Or, if not to us, then to a university that works with and tests meteorites. But find out!

If you want to know if your sample is a meteorite then the single most important thing that you can do is to put it in the hands of someone who has years or decades of experience testing and working with meteorites. Science teachers, museum curators, and even geologists will have opinions but many send samples to us for a determination or verification.



 
 

#16. I'm sending my meteorite for testing. Should I insure the package?



 

Packages rarely get lost in today's USPS mail system. All have tracking numbers associated with them so you can both track and know when they arrive. But insurance is inexpensive so it's up to you. The best thing you can do is to wrap the sample well and mark the package clearly with our address and your return address with your email address inside.



 
 

#17. How is a meteorite tested? What do you do?



 

When we receive a sample, the package is opened, (this can be timely as some will wrap the samples in cardboard, cloth, aluminum foil , and then wrap each sample tightly with tape.!). The contents are then logged onto a data sheet. Next, the sample or samples are examined by a person who has years or decades of experience in testing, researching, and publishing on meteorites.

After the hand, or "visual" examination, they'll decide if it is a sample of known geology or requires further microscopy examination. This part may require taking a small slice from the surface to look for meteoritic inclusions, clasts, chondrules (if a stone), textures including fusion crust, contraction cracking etc..

For irons we look for known meteoritic primary and secondary structures. This includes graphite nodules, troilite, schreibersite, rhabdites, Neumann lines, testing for nickel, and we will probably acid etch for further refinement etc.

If not ruled out at this point then a polished section, glass slide or thin section may be made along with additional chemical testing for a meteoritical determination. After this, if warranted although not included in the verification phase,, would come SEM work for classification. This last part is a lengthy peer-reviewed process that usually involves several people and joint facilities or labs.

Every meteorite has been frozen in space for over 4 billion years since it's formation. Each one has a "story" that unfolds during the classification process as the geochemistry and petrology is carefully studied and published with the results submitted to the Meteoritical Society's Nomenclature Committee for acceptance and registration into the Society's Data Base.

Classification is not part of the initial verification process and testing. But let's find out if you have a meteorite first.

The above is only a coarse overview of the meteorite testing procedures done by us or universities that may still be testing.



 
 

#18. I've sent many samples to you, all come back as "not meteoritical". Are you sure that you know what you're doing?



 

This was one of the more difficult emails that we have received.

Some people are so sure they have a meteorite and get upset if it's not. Some get very upset and complain on social media blogs of testing fraud etc. And yet, to a person, the people who get very upset end up admitting that they have never seen or held an actual meteorite.

Yes, this person had sent multiple samples over a few years, all were common terrestrial rock fragments but the testing evolved into a negative experience for him.

With each sample test we sent back a complimentary, authentic meteorite slice to give the person a better understanding of what to look for along with explanations of what they had sent. We even arranged for the person to visit Yale University and speak with the Curator of Meteoritics about meteorites. The person then sent some of the same samples to an analytics testing company in Canada (at a cost of several hundred dollars) and then sent the data to Washington University at St. Louis. He found out that our testing was correct, none of his samples were meteorites.

At some point this person was on a social media blog and saw a complaint from a person in China who had sent us samples that were also not meteorites. He became incensed, thinking we were doing something wrong and filed his own social media blog type complaint (later university testing showed that the samples from China were not meteoritical either). To his credit though, he posted a "glowing" retraction on his earlier complaint.

This is a testing service that affords the public a timely response and determination. We've been doing this for over 30 years. We take a hard look at every sample sent to us and actually want your samples to be meteorites as they would mean a new contribution to the science and perhaps further our understanding of the early solar system 4.6 billion years ago. The likelihood that your sample is a meteorite is low but it's worth finding out, especially if it turns out to be a rare type. But if it's not then don't be discouraged. Learn from the information that we send and keep looking.



 
 

#19. I think I found a meteorite, will send for testing. If it's not a meteorite can you tell us what it is?



 

The testing service is to identify meteorites. If your sample is not meteoritical then we go no further with analysis. There are over 5500 minerals on Earth. Their identification is beyond the scope of the testing service offered. However, we do try to give you an opinion of what it is and a referral to a university that may help you if you are interested in finding out more.



 
 

#20. I'm sending samples from Spain for testing. How do I pay the testing charge?



 

For internationally sent samples we use PayPal. Mail the samples, we will email you upon arrival and give you the PayPal information. You can pay the testing charge then. Don't forget to put your email address in the package.


 
 

#21. I see many references to the Meteoritical Society. What do they do?



 

The Meteoritical Society is an international organization composed of over 1,000 scientists and contributors representing 52 countries. Their primary focus is the study of meteorites, cosmic dust, asteroids, comets, samples returned by space missions, impact craters, and the origins of the Solar System.

The Society writes and publishes meteoritical guidelines and classification criteria needed for acceptance into their registry database.

They also maintain the records all known meteorites in the Meteoritical Bulletin and publish "Meteoritics and Planetary Science", a leading peer-reviewed journal of planetary science.

For more information see: http://www.meteoriticalsociety.org/



 
 

#22. I am certain that I have a meteorite. It passes every test on websites online - the "streak" test on procelain, it attracts a magnet and has lots of fusion crust and flow lines. I am sending it for you to register it with the Meteoritical Society.



 

Hmmm, well, let's make sure that it's a real meteorite and we can go from there.

As mentioned in previous questions, much of the information online can be misleading but maybe you're right, maybe you do have a meteorite. After doing the suggested online "home" tests the most important thing that you can do is to put your suspected meteorite in the hands of someone who can tell you for certain. So, send it to us or to a university that is still testing. It doesn't matter which.

What matters is that you follow through and have it examined. If it turns out to be a meteorite, great, congratulations. If not, try to remember that the person doing the examination has probably been doing this for a few decades and is only the "messenger".



 
     
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