Meteorite Classifications & Characteristics

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  • 0:01 Being Killed by a Meteorite
  • 1:20 The Main Types of Meteorites
  • 1:45 Stony Meteorites
  • 3:51 Iron and Stony-Iron Meteorites
  • 5:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will go over the major types of meteorites and their major subclasses. Important terms and concepts we'll cover include the iron meteorites, stony-iron meteorites, stony meteorites, and carbonaceous chondrites.

Being Killed by a Meteorite

This lesson will be about some interesting percentages and odds. Let's start with some interesting stuff.

  • The odds that you'll be struck by lightning in your life: 1 in 12,000
  • The odds you'll die from an asteroid impact: about 1 in 75 million
  • The odds that you'll be hit by a meteorite larger than 0.1 kg in any given year: 1 in 10 billion

And you know what? One verifiable hit-me-with-a-meteorite lottery winner exists in recorded history. A woman in Alabama was injured by a meteorite in 1954. She was lucky to survive.

Actually, the number of people verified to have been killed by a meteorite in recorded history is 0, and hopefully it stays that way. If some poor individual were to be struck by one, it would be by one of three types of meteorites. I know it won't make them feel any better to know it could be one of three types of meteorites, but hey, it's important to know what's out there anyways!

What these three types of meteorites are, their important subtypes, and peculiar characteristics are the subject of this lesson.

The Main Types of Meteorites

A meteorite is a piece of a meteoroid that survived its fall through Earth's atmosphere. The three main kinds of meteorites are:

  • Iron meteorites, meteorites made of iron and nickel
  • Stony-iron meteorites, meteorites made of stone and iron
  • Stony meteorites, which are meteorites made entirely of stony material

I don't think that's too hard to remember! The definitions basically speak for themselves.

Stony Meteorites

So, as for percentages, stony meteorites account for around 94% of all meteorites that fall to this planet. Keep that number in mind for the next section.

There are two main subtypes of stony meteorites: the chondrites and achondrites. Most stony meteorites are chondrites. These meteorites contain something they are named for, chondrules, which a-chondrites obviously do not have, given such a prefix.

In any case, chondrules, the things found in chondrites, are small, round, glassy bodies found embedded in chondrites. No one knows how these chondrules formed for sure, but there are some hypotheses. Most of these hypotheses posit that the chondrules are the remains of and clues to the very early solar system, when everything was just beginning to form.

An important class of chondrites is that of carbonaceous chondrites. They are quite rare, but they are important because they are rich in organic compounds (hence the prefix carbon-) and water. These fragile substances would have been lost to history if they were heated even a little bit. This means that carbonaceous chondrites are samples of our very early solar system that have been unaltered by temperature and pressure. They are like a direct window to our early solar system.

What's very important and fascinating about carbonaceous chondrites is that they contain amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins and life. While no life has ever been found within such a meteorite, they do demonstrate the very important concept that under the right conditions, early solar system material could mix about to produce the very foundations of life.

Unlike the carbonaceous chondrites, achondrites resemble Earth's igneous rock. It's likely that achondrites formed when their chondritic material melted and destroyed their chondrules.

Iron and Stony-Iron Meteorites

I hope you recall how many (percentage-wise) of the meteorites that fall to Earth are of the stony type. It was 94%. This is interesting because while only 5% of the meteorites that fall to Earth are iron meteorites, 66% of the meteorites found by people are iron meteorites! That's because iron meteorites are so easy to spot, they are actually the ones most commonly found by people.

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