What does a meteorite look like?

  • For Educators

    • Topic: Earth Science

      Subtopic: Meteorites

      Keywords: Meteorites, Astrophysics, Atmosphere, Weathering, Astrogeology, Meteors

      Audience: General

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Meteorites on Earth look very different from the way they did drifting through space. During a meteorite's 10- to 15-second trip through the atmosphere, air friction heats its surface to a red-hot 1,800 degrees Celsius. This friction can melt the meteorite, and can carry away up to 90 percent of the original mass, leaving interesting surface features. Once a meteorite lands, weathering begins to change and destroy its surface.

In This Section

Modoc (AMNH 604)

Modoc (AMNH 604)

Rocks floating through the vacuum of space are chilled to well below freezing.

Stannern

Stannern

Some meteorites, such as Stannern, have tiny bumpy lines—called flow lines—running down their sides, like wax drippings on a candle. 

Miller

Miller

Meteorites with a well-formed nose cone shape, like Miller, are very rare. 

Glorieta mountain

Glorieta mountain

The little fingerprintlike indentations seen on the surfaces of many meteorites, such as Glorieta Mountain, show how the rock melted as it passed through the atmosphere.

Dalgety Downs

Dalgety Downs

Some meteorites, such as Dalgety Downs, sit outside for thousands of years before they're discovered.

Furnace slag

Furnace slag

Many hunks of ordinary rock or metal look like meteorites.