If you watch the night sky you might see what we often call “shooting stars” or “falling stars.”
These are meteorites that are various materials from our Solar System that create a bright streak of light as they near or enter Earth’s atmosphere.
It is very common to see quite a few meteorites each hour and during a special event called a “meteor shower” you might see as many as one hundred per hour.
Many of the meteorites come from pieces of asteroids such as 4 Vesta, and most are small and are vaporized when they enter the atmosphere.
Some meteorites are much larger and can be sizes from a pebble to a boulder. These often make it through the atmosphere and do hit the ground.
Other meteorites come from other celestial bodies such as comets, our Moon, and even Mars.
When these metallic or rocky objects are traveling through space, they are called a meteoroid. The smallest ones that are around the size of a particle of dust are called micrometeroid or even “space dust.”
Once they travel through Earth’s atmosphere they can hit speeds of 10-70 km per second and they become heated by friction.
This is what gives them the glowing long streak of light that we see. Most meteoroids are slowed down by the atmospheric friction to around a few hundred km per hour.
If the object makes it through the atmosphere and does hit the Earth it is then called a meteorite.
Earth’s surface is 71% water so a majority of the meteorites land in the ocean. The rest that do hit land are often found by meteorite hunters.
Meteorites are divided into many types based on what they are made of, the chemicals that are found inside of them, the specific type of chemical element known as “isotopic composition,” and the minerals that they contain known as mineralogy. Meteorites are also classified by specific type:
In addition to these three main types, there are other categories that are meteorite-specific.
One example is the pallasite meteorites that are classed as stony-iron made up of iron and nickel, but they also contain olivine crystals which are very common on Earth.
Meteorite hunters travel all over the world to find and collect them. Some are found in museums due to their incredible size while others are part of private collections.
Meteorites are very valuable and are often bought and sold to collectors at various trade shows. Some of the most famous meteorites include: