If Rocks Could Talk

Chondrite Meteorite


Rondi: I'm thrilled to introduce Chondrite  Meteorite  This rock is not only the oldest rock, but it has also traveled farther than any other in the Museum. It came from outer space! Like rocks on Earth, space rocks can be igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic. Chondrite Meteorite is part sedimentary  and part igneous . As the oldest rock in the Museum, it formed about 4.5 billion years ago. That's as old as Earth itself!

Chondrite Meteorite sitting on a pedestal

Chondrite Meteorite: Oh, my goodness! Am I really that old? I don't feel a day over three billion.

Rondi: Well, you do look great, especially considering everything you've been through.

Chondrite Meteorite: You are such a dear! But I guess it's true. When you've been around as long as I have, you've seen it all.

Illustration of the Solar System at its formation, showing a white oval surrounded by rings.

Rondi: It's amazing to think that you were there when it all began ... when the solar system  formed ... when the Sun and Earth took shape.

Chondrite Meteorite: Yes, but those were simpler times. In those days, we were all just tiny dust particles. We were swirling in a vast disk around what was eventually going to become the center of our solar system: the Sun .

Rondi: Is that when you formed into rock?

Chondrite Meteorite: That's right! The heat was so intense, it made most of the dust particles melt and clump together into spheres. These tiny spheres are called chondrules, and they are about the size of specks of dirt.

More than fifty dark spheres, called chondrules, against light-colored background.

Rondi: What happened to the chondrules?

Chondrite Meteorite: Well, over time, we clumped together with more dust and other particles, forming larger asteroids . As more and more asteroids collided and clumped together, the chondrules eventually formed the planets.

Rondi: So how come you didn't end up as a planet?

Chondrite Meteorite: You see, not everything in space formed planets. In fact, there's a band of leftover asteroids and dust in the solar system called the asteroid belt. That ring of debris circles the Sun between the orbits of Mars  and Jupiter . That's where I came from.

Rondi: And how did you get here from the asteroid belt?

Chondrite Meteorite: Rondi, it's a miracle I'm here at all. First, I was bumped out of the asteroid belt. Then, of all the places to go in the vastness of outer space, I entered Earth's atmosphere.

Rondi: So that's when you became a "meteor." But most meteors burn up and never reach the ground.

Chondrite Meteorite: You're absolutely right. It's very unusual for a meteor like me to make it all the way to Earth's surface and survive the trip.

Rondi: Is that how you got those scars?

Chondrite Meteorite: Yes, indeed. They are signs of all I've been through.

Rondi: Let's get back to your trip. Once you made it to Earth's surface, you became a meteorite. Tell us about what happens when a meteorite hits Earth.

Large crater probably caused by a meteor hitting Earth.

Chondrite Meteorite: Well, some meteorites can cause quite a disaster. They can form huge craters  hundreds of miles wide, and cause volcanic eruptions or even climate change. Some scientists believe a massive meteorite may have led to the dinosaurs becoming extinct.

Rondi: So what happened when you reached Earth?

Chondrite Meteorite: It wasn't that dramatic—but I'll never forget it. The year was 1969. I was part of a meteorite that broke up in the atmosphere. We were just over the village of Allende in Mexico. Two tons of rock spread out over the village.

Rondi: It's amazing that you came from outer space, yet you're made of many of the same minerals that are found on Earth. How could that be?

Chondrite Meteorite: It goes back to when we all were formed. Since the asteroids helped make up the planets, you can see how they contain lots of the same minerals.

Rondi: You know, you might be from across the solar system, but you're not so different from rocks on Earth.

Chondrite Meteorite: Now don't you go telling people that! I do like being a celebrity here at the Museum.

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Photos: All images: courtesy of AMNH