Space is an intriguing place. Full of surprises, space can also be super confusing. One of the many confusions that often manage to make the lives of students hell is the concept of Meteorite.
From those space debris that fall on Earth to those fleeting flashes of lights in night sky – everything is just very confusing. We will clear those confusions in this article on meteorite facts.
Stay with us because things can get slightly confusing. We will try to keep things as simple as possible. In order to understand, we need to start from asteroids.
Meteorite Facts: 1-5
1. Meteoroids are rocks from space. They are small in size. They can break apart from asteroids. Compared to asteroids, the meteoroids are very very very small.
2. Now the question is, ‘what are asteroids?’ Well, they are also space rocks. They are very massive. They hang around in the universe and they bang with each other and break apart forming smaller rocks that are meteoroids. Asteroids can even hit planets and their satellites.
3. Meteoroids can originate from comets as well. Comets are essentially small celestial objects and usually made of ice and dust. When comets get closer to Sun, they lose some of the gas and dust, which form the meteoroids.
4. Now the question that naturally comes in is, how big are meteoroids? Well, there is no definitive answer to this. Some sources say that meteoroids can be up to 10 meters wide while some other sources say that any space rock or object which is smaller than 1 kilometer in width is a meteoroid.
5. One thing that everyone unanimously accepts is that meteoroids are usually very small and are often only a few millimeters wide or less.
Meteorite Facts: 6-10
6. In the night sky we often see fleeting flashes of lights. They are meteors. But what causes those flashes?
7. They are basically caused by meteoroids. When meteoroids enter into the atmosphere of Earth, they heat up and then burn and vaporize.
8. When the meteoroids burn in our atmosphere, they produce that fleeting flash of light that we so very often call the ‘Shooting Star’ or ‘Falling Star’.
9. Truth is that they are not stars. They are simply the meteoroids that entered Earth’s atmosphere and burned up. The light we see is because of the burning. The trail of light or the flash we see is caused because of the speed with which the meteoroid is traveling.
10. So, when a meteoroid enters into Earth’s atmosphere and burns up, it is known as meteor.
Meteorite Facts: 11-15
11. There are some meteoroids that enter into Earth’s atmosphere, but do not necessarily burn up and vaporize completely. Some will reach the surface of Earth.
12. Those that fall on the surface of Earth are known as meteorites. So essentially it turns out that meteoroids, meteors and meteorites are all the same thing but different names depending on location. The classifications below will help:
Origin: Can be pieces of asteroids or can be gas and dust remnants of comets.
Size: Minimum: A few millimeters or smaller (size of sand grain) and are usually referred to as micrometeoroids. Maximum: Up to 10 meters or anything less that a kilometer wide
Location: Outer space
Origin: It is essentially a meteoroid that enters Earth’s atmosphere and burns. Also known by the names ‘Shooting Star’ or ‘Falling Star.’
Size: Same as that of a meteoroid but eventually burns up and vaporizes in Earth’s atmosphere.
Location: Earth’s atmosphere.
Origin: It is essentially a meteoroid that survives the meteor phase and falls on Earth’s surface.
Size: Same as that of a meteoroid but becomes smaller in size when falls on Earth’s surface because it loses some mass when it burns in atmosphere.
Location: Earth’s surface.
13. Meteorites that are essentially meteoroids can also originate from our Moon and are known as Lunar Meteorites.
14. Then again, there are Martian Meteorites as well. They are nothing but meteoroids that originated on Mars – the Red Planet.
15. Meteoroids that originate from comets are way too small to reach Earth’s surface and become meteorites. They will usually burn up in the atmosphere. So, they don’t survive the meteor phase. Ones that survive the meteor phase and become meteorites are usually fragments of asteroids or rocks from Mars or Moon.
Meteorite Facts: 16-20
16. Here is something truly interesting. Meteoroids are space rocks or dust and when they get into the gravitational field of our Earth, they are dragged in.
17. When pulled in by the gravitational force of Earth, these meteoroids can travel at a very high speed of up to 252,000 kilometers an hour or 156,585 miles an hour.
18. However, when a small meteoroid enters the atmosphere, it will experience immense resistance caused by friction with air. This will do two things. One of the two is that the friction will heat up the meteoroid to such an extent that it will become incandescent and then burn out and disintegrate or vaporize.
19. When this happens, the meteoroid will leave behind a streak or light that will last for only a few seconds or less. This is what we call Shooting Star. The streak of light that we see is not the burning meteoroid but rather the surrounding air that glows because it is heated by friction.
20. The other thing that happens is that when the meteoroid enters Earth’s atmosphere, it will slow down because of the friction.
Meteorite Facts: 21-25
21. A big meteoroid can also enter into Earth’s atmosphere. Even the big meteoroid goes through the same process of heating up and slowing down.
22. Once it enters Earth’s atmosphere, whether it will burn up and disintegrate or not or whether it will reach the surface of Earth is dependent on a number of factors like chemical make up the rock, the angle at which the rock entered into the atmosphere, the mass of the rock, the shape of the rock etc.
23. In the meteor phase all meteoroids (whether small or big) will heat up because of friction. This is followed by a phase of incandescence and then the outer surface of the meteoroids will start melting followed by ablation and then formation of a fusion crust on the exterior.
24. The fusion crust that forms is usually black in color. This explains why the meteorites that fall on the Earth’s surface are usually black.
25. Meteoroids that eventually survive the meteor phase and reach Earth will land somewhere. But where? Well, most of the meteorites actually end up in water bodies like oceans and seas because 71% of Earth’s surface is covered by water. Remaining meteorites manage to fall on the surface where they are discovered later.
Meteorite Facts: 26-30
26. Now meteorites that are collected need to be classified and organized. That classification is done by several methods. One of those methods is classifying the meteorites as Stony, Metallic or Mixture.
27. The Stony meteorites are the ones that will be composed of rocky material. Metallic meteorites are the ones that will be composed primarily of iron. The Mixture category contains meteorites that will have a mixture of rocks and iron.
28. These three categories are further categorized (subcategories) for cataloging specific types of meteorites. For instance, there is something called Pallasite Meteorites. They are basically rocky-iron meteorites with major metallic components being iron and nickel and in rocky parts they contain olivine crystals (a type of crystal very abundant on Earth).
29. There are several other methods that are used by scientists and geologists. They may classify meteorites based on the isotopic composition of the rocks (isotopes are variants of the same chemical).
30. Meteorites may also be classified based on the minerals they contain (known as mineralogy) or can be classified based on chemical makeup (chemical composition of the rocks).
Meteorite Facts: 31-35
31. The largest meteorite that hit Earth is known as Hoba. Weirdly enough, the meteorite didn’t create a crater upon impact with Earth. It is naturally occurring the most massive iron piece to be present on Earth now.
32. Scientists think that Hoba most likely skipped through Earth’s atmosphere because the meteorite is unusually flat on both surfaces. [the featured image you see for this post is of Hoba meteorite]
33. There are only two confirmed cases of meteorites killing two people. One happened in 1825 when a meteorite killed a person. The second one happened in India in 2016 when a person was struck by a meteorite. He died!
34. Sir Terry Pratchett – a fantasy author – when knighted, had a sword made for himself. He himself learned the art of sword-making from an hired expert to forge his own sword. What’s weird is that the sword is made of iron ore that was dug out of several pieces of a single meteorite.
35. In July, 2011, the meteorites that fell on Earth during the brilliant meteor shower, have been confirmed by scientists to be Martian meteorites. The stones were recovered from Morocco. Scientists say that the rocks were ejected from the Martian surface when an asteroid rammed on the planet back in antiquity.
Meteorite Facts: 36-40
36. In South of Cairo an excavation was taking place when the archaeologists found an iron beads’ string. Upon closely studying the iron, the researchers found that the iron dated thousands of years prior to the beginning of the Iron Age in Egypt. They concluded eventually that the iron was of meteorite origin.
37. Scientists say that meteorites are responsible for the evolution of life on Earth. Before life evolved on this planet, meteorites that fell on Earth, brought with them what we call reduced phosphorus. This reduced phosphorus oxidized into phosphates and thereby allowing RNA and DNA generation, which are precursors of life.
38. a 58-ton fragment of a meteorite had been a major source of metal for creation of harpoons and other tools for the Inuits of the Greenland.
39. Some of the medals that were given out in the 2014 Olympics had fragments of meteorite material. The fragments were taken from the meteorite that hit Russia in 2013.
40. The artificial satellites that we launch in Earth’s orbit are programmed in a way that they evade meteors. Only one out of 8,000 different satellites orbiting Earth has till date been hit and destroyed by meteorites.
Meteorite Facts: 41-45
41. There are jewelry grade diamonds and then there are industrial-grade meteor crater diamonds. Russia has a massive cache of the second variant worth trillions of dollars. The second type is two times harder than jewelry grade.
42. Two Greek armies hell bent on destroying each other were standing face to face and getting ready for a battle in 74 BCE. A meteorite crash landed between the two armies and scared the shit out of them. Both the armies decided to flee the scene.
43. Nazis authorized an expedition in Tibet in the 1930s. That’s when they managed to recover an ancient statue that was carved out of a meteorite. The meteorite landed on Earth some 150,000 years ago.
44. According to NASA, some 10,000 tons of meteorites make it to the surface of Earth on a daily basis. Fortunately however, most of them are no bigger than dust grains.
45. If that’s not surprising, here is something that will shock you. Almost 33 metric tons of meteoroids enter the atmosphere of Earth every single day. Most of them end up burning and disintegrating in the atmosphere and the remaining land as meteorites.
Meteorite Facts: 46-50
46. According to scientists, the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs (remember that it was a meteorite as it entered Earth’s atmosphere and reached Earth’s surface) managed to release a dust cloud so humongous that it nearly covered the entire Earth and prevented the sun rays from reaching the planet.
47. That meteorite also created such a deafening sound that most of the animals most likely lost their hearing instantly. Also, the energy that was released was equal to the energy created by exploding 100 teratons of TNT.
48. Very small amounts of burnt particles of meteorites are present in dust.
49. In order to actually survive the meteor phase and reach earth as a meteorite, a meteoroid needs to be at least 25 meters wide. In order to cause some serious global damage, a meteoroid needs to be at least a kilometer wide.
50. Most of the shooting stars that enter into the atmosphere of Earth are of the size of a pebble.
Meteorite Facts: 51-55
51. In 2013, on March 17, Moon experienced a meteorite impact. Upon impact on the surface of the Moon, the meteorite caused an explosion which was visible to naked eye from Earth.
52. There are some meteorites that have a specific type of crystalline pattern known as the Widmanstätten pattern. It is impossible to duplicate that pattern here on Earth. That pattern can form only in outer space.
53. Scientists have a theory that the water that is present on Earth actually arrived on the planet billions of years ago along with primitive meteorites.
54. A meteor that explodes in the atmosphere with visible fragments after explosion is known as Bolide.
55. A town in Kentucky, US is built entirely in a meteor crater that has a diameter of 3 miles. Known as Middlesboro or Middlesborough, the town is the only town in the US to sit in a meteor crater entirely.
Meteorite Facts: 56-60
56. Did you know that almost all the meteorites come from the asteroid belt that hangs in between Mars and Jupiter? This also means that asteroids and in turn, meteoroids actually orbit the Sun.
57. In December 2001, a team of researchers from NASA found sugar in not one but two completely different meteorites. Sugar is one of the essential building blocks of life and this discovery hinted that this building block of life may have originated from another planet.
58. Wondering what else scientists have found in meteorites? Scientists have also found carbolic acid and amino acids in meteorites that are also essential for life.
59. No, meteorites, when they land on Earth, do not create fire. Meteoroids stay in space for billions of years and they are extremely cold. When they enter Earth’s atmosphere, they heat up for sometime and only the outer surfaces burn (for large meteoroids). The insides remain cold and they cannot start on impact simply because the meteorite is hot. The friction and shear force can, however, start a fire.
60. Some meteorites that land will have some isotopes of elements that have short lives. These are basically radioactive isotopes that disintegrate very quickly and are very weak to pose any threat even on direct contact. So, some meteorites can be slightly radioactive when they freshly fall on Earth.