Meteorite: Definition & Types

Instructor: John Williams
Meteors are pieces of space debris that enter Earth's atmosphere. If they reach the Earth's surface, they are then known as meteorites. This article discusses meteorites, including their classifications and nomenclature.

Introduction

Have you ever watched a meteor shower and wondered what exactly is causing those streaks of light in the sky? Meteors are pieces of debris from space that enter the earth's atmosphere. As they enter the atmosphere, they begin to burn and produce the lights that we see during these showers. Ever wondered where they eventually land? Most meteors are vaporized before they can reach the earth. However, on occasion, some of these pieces of debris may reach the earth's surface. These pieces are known as meteorites. Let's take a look at meteorites and their characteristics.

The Richardson Meteorite
meteorite

Types of Meteorites: Classification and Composition

Meteorites are often classified based on the material that is found in their cores. Most meteorites are classified as stony, meaning they contain primitive rock. Interestingly enough, some of these meteorites also contain amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.

The second classification of meteorites is the iron meteorites, which contain large amounts of iron and nickel. Because of the high iron content, these meteorites are often magnetic.

Finally, a small percentage of the meteors found (1%) will be classified as stony-iron, which means they have a mixture of the other two types.

Naming of Meteorites

Meteorites are often named for the location where they are found. For example, one of the most famous meteorites is Willamette meteorite, which was found near Willamette, Oregon. Other times, meteorites may be named after the person who discovered them. The Hodge meteorite, for example, is named after Ann Hodge, who was struck by it as it landed.

While this may not seem like a hard task, an estimated 500 meteorites strike Earth each year, which can make for a tough job in finding names. This is especially true when more than one meteorite strikes in the same area, and in those cases, they will be also be assigned a letter or number designation.

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