Space Rocks III

StarDate: January 20, 2012

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Meteorite hunting is such a popular pastime that it even has its own reality show. But finding those rocks from space is a tough chore, because they look a lot like the rocks here on Earth.

Most meteorites are leftovers from the birth of the solar system — small chunks of rock and metal like those that came together to form the planets. A few are chips of asteroids, or even Mars or the Moon.

Most meteorites look black or brown, and have a smooth surface. Many have a thin, dark coating known as a fusion crust — produced as the outside of the rock melted during its fiery plunge through Earth’s atmosphere.

Most are denser than similar-sized Earth rocks because they contain bits of metal, so they feel heavy. And because of the metal, a magnet will stick to them.

Meteorites are not perfectly round — they tend to have irregular shapes. The surfaces of many are marked by dimples that look like thumbprints.

And meteorites are most often found where there are few Earth rocks lying around — places like the Great Plains, the Arabian desert, and the ice sheets of Antarctica.

There are plenty of places where you’re sure to find a meteorite, though — many museums have meteorites in their collections. And there are big collections — including some big meteorites — at places like the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, and college campuses like TCU and the University of New Mexico. They make finding space rocks hassle-free.

 

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011

 

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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