New England Meteoritical Services Meteorite Testing Program Information

Meteoritetesting.org

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Frequently Asked Questions and Commentary about Meteorite Testing.

 

The most important and helpful page on this site, read carefully


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Last update: July, 2019

Commentary

Learn before you send.

This page will take you between 5 to 8 minutes to read. It's a frank synopsis of the many questions we receive and will answer many or most of your questions.

We recently examined and appraised what is arguably one of the most historic meteorite collections in the world, the "Huss - Nininger Collection of Meteorites and Tektites" at the University of Hawaii. It was a "hand's on" examination and appraisal of over 4,000 meteorites and more than 2,000 tektites.

Dr. Harvey H. Nininger began the collection in 1925 when little was known and agreed upon about meteorites. Along with his son-in-law, Glenn Huss, Dr. Nininger collected every curious stone, questioned shapes, noted any unusual characteristics, kept meticulous records, and ultimately acquired the majority of meteorites available for study up until the 1980s.

Look closely at the meteorite in the photograph, it's one of the specimens in the Huss - Nininger Collection and a rare classification of stone meteorite - a carbonaceous chondrite, CM2.


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Look at the blackish fusion crust and the structural cracking that occurs during the violent passage through the Earth's atmosphere as the pressure of rapidly building air molecules slow it down from cosmic velocities to the terminal "dark flight" phase of the fall - all in a matter of tens of seconds.

This is one of the Murchison meteorites. It's more like a "soft" stone when compared to Earth geology.

Even more important is what's inside - amino acids - a precursor of life. That amino acids can form and survive the harsh radiation and temperature of space gives rise to many questions. Look closely at this image. Study it. The Murchison Fall consisted of thousands of individual meteorites. Find a basket full of these and you'll be happily retired in days.

Don't waste your time studying "meteor-wrongs", study the real thing. The more that you know, the more likely you will recognize a meteorite.

For those interested, we have posted a brief excerpt of the "Huss - Nininger Collection of Meteorites and Tektites" appraisal Introduction at Meteorite Collection Appraisal

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Frequently Asked Questions.

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This program has been testing samples for the public since 1993. It does not operate in a vacuum. Over the past couple of decades, we have built relationships with universities and researchers. It is this access and collaboration that keeps us on the front lines of meteoritic research enabling the Testing Program to be successful, providing accurate and economic screening of samples for the public quickly.


#1
 

"Will my samples be returned?"



   

Yes, all samples sent from within the USA are returned. For International mailings, we ask for the return postage to send them back. Please keep the sample size small, 10 to 20 grams. Larger samples may require additional return postage. If you want to send a larger sample it may be a few dollars more in postage. Email us - Lab@meteorlab.com



   
#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, marking the area, to examine the interior mineralogy but even this is not usually noticeable.



   
#3
 

"How do I cut a sample to send you?"



   

Sometimes cutting a sample for testing can be hard, sometimes not. Many people will use a hacksaw for metallic specimens. For rocky specimens, they often use a Dremel tool or a cold chisel to break or pry off a small sample. We can take larger samples if you do not want to cut but you'll have to pay the return postage. However you do it be sure to wear eye protection.



   
#4
 

"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 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, nonmetallic form. This is different than the iron/nickel seen in meteorites, but metal detectors can detect this. Metal detectors will also react to iron-rich sediments such as hematite, magnetite, goethite and can react to many foundry artifacts and byproducts.



   
#5
 

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?"



   

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 with structures, textures, and crystallization not seen in meteorites but common in earth rocks. These can be quickly identified without additional testing.

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 mostly done to confirm iron meteorites or for the classification phase of a stone meteorite. They are tests not always needed for the initial examination and determination. As for nickel, it is also present in terrestrial nickel-bearing ore rocks, laterites, and can be found in association with mafic and ultramafic intrusive rocks.

Note: Martian and Lunar basalts, angrites, ureilites, and several other very rare types require additional collaborative testing protocols.



   
#6
 

"Do you test all samples for the chemical element nickel? "



   

Many websites write about the need for nickel testing of all specimens. This is misleading.

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 - granite, lava, limestones, magnetite, hematite, foundry objects, "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.



   
#7
 

"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 verified, 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, and then sell it as a classified and registered meteorite. Classification is not part of the initial verification.



   
#8
 

"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 that people who send us samples believe but landing hot is not supported in actual witnessed Falls. See, Fusion crust (Fusion Crust)



   
#9

"How large a sample do you need for testing?"



 

Small samples are fine, 10 to 20 grams is ideal. This is roughly the size of a marble.



 
#10
 

"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.

One, because it's important enough for you to write and ask. Two, because if you don't send it 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 any other lab or university that works with and tests meteorites. But find out!



   
#11
 

"How can you test a sample for only $25.00?"



   

We can't. Examining your sample can be a fair amount of work. One person from China complained that it can't be done for the $20.00 or $25.00 testing charge. He was right, but this is an educational outreach program. The additional cost is funded by New England Meteoritical Services.



   
#12
 

"How long have you been testing meteorites?"



   

For over 30 years, with about 25 years for the general public. Our website, meteorlab.com is one of the oldest meteorite sites on the web, started in 1994.



   
#13
 

"Testing labs have complaints and negative reviews on web blogs and social media, can a jeweler test a meteorite instead?"



   

Jewelers do not test meteorites and as for the negative reviews, yes, of course. Any lab, researcher, university or museum that tests meteorites for the public has some negative reviews online, often being called "charlatans" or "fraudulent". Why?

Because we often have to tell people "no, I'm sorry, your sample is not a meteorite". "No" is not the word people want to hear. Some will drive several hundred miles to a lab, bringing a rock they have had in their family for decades, absolutely convinced it's a meteorite. It almost never is and it's a long ride back for them.

Some people will argue with you, some to the point where they become angry and some threaten to "expose" you online as a fraud or charlatan if you do not agree with them.

So, let's put this another way: You go before a Judge or Magistrate, you present your problem, they listen, evaluate any information you supply and render an opinion. If the Judge decides in your favor you love them. But if the Judge decides against you, well, not so much love is there?

This is similar to what we or any testing lab does. We examine and evaluate what you send and render an opinion based upon accepted academic standards pertaining to peer-reviewed, scholarly, published definitions of meteorites.

Negative reviews are not written because we or a testing facility were wrong in our testing results, they are written by people who were told "no".

If you want to know if you found a meteorite, send it to us. You'll be happy with the informational return package that we send even if the answer is "no".

Now, let's get back to the fun stuff......



   
#14
 

We receive variations of this one several times a year: "My meteorite was tested by a scientist. They said they had never seen anything like it and found elements, not, on the Periodic Table, can you tell me what it is?"



   

Other than being one of the great movie lines, "Not found on the Periodic Table", how do you answer this?. As far as we know, the seventh row of the Periodic Table is complete although some argue for the existence of an Island of Stability somewhere around "element 126". If anyone has a rock or meteorite with elements beyond 118 then they probably should call the SyFy channel.



   
#15
 

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



   

If your sample is a meteorite, we will tell you the type, probable classification, and estimated value.

There are over 6000 accepted minerals on Earth. Their identification is beyond the scope of the testing service program, but we do try to give you an opinion of what it is.



   
#16
 

Although not a FAQ, it's a good question and is worth reading: "I sent in a couple of specimens for testing, I got the response that they were not meteorites.  I recently had one XRF tested and it came back 99.9% iron. This rock needs to be looked at again, would you do a retest?"



   

Verbatim response: "Sure, happy to re-examine it for you. But, there are no meteorites that are 99.9% Fe (iron).

All iron meteorites are the formative end product of asteroid or large-body differentiation and have from 5 to 30% Ni (nickel) as a Fe/Ni alloy resulting in the formation of the meteoritic minerals taenite, kamacite, schreibersite, and others.

The chemical composition of iron meteorites is dominated by the elements Fe, Ni, and Co, which make up more than 95% of the meteorite, with somewhere around 5% being silicate-rich inclusions or other trace mineralogy. Ni is always present; the concentration is always higher than 5% and may be as high as about 30%.

I think that you may be looking at the term "iron meteorite" as meaning 100 percent iron but it is not, they are always alloyed with Ni (nickel). We hold that our analysis is correct, your sample is an igneous foundry artifact. But, if you would like us to look again at it then we are happy to do so, please send it to us."



   
#17
 

"I'm sending samples from Europe for testing. How do I pay the testing charge?"



   

Please email us for the status of International testing of samples.



   
#18
 

"I have a large collection of over two hundred meteorites that I found in my yard. Can I send 30 at a time for certification?"



   

You can send as many meteorites as you like but let's test a sample group of three first and take a look at what you have before you start spending money testing large groups.



   
#19
 

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

They also maintain the records of 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: meteoriticalsociety.org



   
#20
 

"I am certain that I have a meteorite. It passes every test on websites online - the "streak" test on porcelain, 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 easily taken out of context, 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, another lab, 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, it's disappointing but not the end of the world. Meteoritics is a fun and fascinating interdisciplinary science, learn more about it and keep looking!



   

 

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