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What are Meteorwrongs?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Meteorwrongs are rocks which people think are meteorites, but turn out to the ordinary terrestrial rocks. The term “meteorwrong” is a play on words with “meteorite,” rather than an official term in geology. Meteorwrongs are often easy to identify with a casual glance, and some colleges and rock hounding associations offer clinics to identify rocks and show people how to spot meteorwrongs.

There are several reasons to want to identify a rock as a meteorite. Many people find meteorites interesting, because they come from space, and sometimes collectors will pay a high price for verified meteorites. Scientists are also sometimes interested in these rocks, because they can provide information about how the universe developed, and what sort of minerals can be found in abundance in space. Sometimes the identification of a meteorite also becomes important in court, as for example when someone claims that meteorite damage to a home should be covered by insurance.

Many people have an idea of what a meteorite looks like, and when they find rocks which fit with this mental picture, they may decide that these rocks are meteorites. In fact, most of the time they are plain old Earth rocks like iron debris, magnetite, and vesicular basalt, much to the disappointment of their discoverers.

So, how does one tell if a rock is a meteorite or a meteorwrong? Sometimes, it requires the assistance of a skilled geologist, but there are a few major clues which can lead you in the right direction. One of the defining features of a meteorite is a fusion crust, caused by passing through the Earth's atmosphere at high speed. The fusion crust is black to rusty brown in color, depending on age, and typically very smooth. It also looks very different from the rest of the rock, once it is cut open.

Most meteorites are highly magnetic, and dull in color. If a rock is covered in crystals, especially brightly colored ones, it is most likely a meteorwrong. True meteorites are extremely dense, feeling very heavy for their size, and they are often flecked with small pieces of metal. Meteorwrongs have gas bubbles, air pockets, and large pieces of sediment, often in layers.

One of the biggest clues is the surrounding geologic material. If you find neighboring rocks which look more or less identical, you are holding a meteorwrong, and while the rock might be interesting or valuable for other reasons, it certainly isn't from outer space.

For collectors who want to avoid meteorwrongs, it is a good idea to ask for an independent appraisal of a rock which someone claims is a meteorite. Many geologists who specialize in meteorites offer appraisals, for a fee, and if the rock turns out to be worthless, it can be a fee well-spent.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly are "Meteorwrongs"?

Meteorwrongs are terrestrial rocks and man-made materials that are often mistaken for meteorites. They can be ordinary earth rocks, slag from industrial processes, or even pieces of old buildings. Unlike meteorites, which are extraterrestrial in origin, meteorwrongs lack the unique characteristics such as fusion crust or high metal content that genuine meteorites typically possess.

How can I tell if a rock is a meteorite or a meteorwrong?

To differentiate between a meteorite and a meteorwrong, look for features like a fusion crust—a thin, glassy coating formed as the meteorite burns through the atmosphere. Meteorites often have a higher density and may attract a magnet due to their iron content. In contrast, meteorwrongs lack these distinctive traits. Professional analysis, such as a streak test or examination by a geologist, can provide definitive identification.

Why do people often confuse meteorwrongs with meteorites?

People frequently mistake meteorwrongs for meteorites because they can superficially resemble each other, especially to the untrained eye. Meteorwrongs may have a darkened exterior or unusual shape that mimics a meteorite's appearance. Without knowledge of specific characteristics or scientific testing, it's easy to misidentify these terrestrial impostors as space rocks.

What are some common types of meteorwrongs?

Common meteorwrongs include hematite, magnetite, and basalt—rocks that can have a dark, shiny appearance similar to meteorites. Industrial slag, which is a byproduct of metal smelting, is also frequently mistaken for meteorites due to its irregular shape and sometimes metallic content. Limestone and quartz are other examples that are often misidentified as meteorites.

Are there any tools or tests to help identify meteorwrongs?

Yes, there are several tests to help identify meteorwrongs. A magnet test can reveal if a rock contains iron, a common feature in many meteorites. The streak test, where the rock is rubbed against unglazed porcelain to observe the color of the streak left behind, can also be informative. Additionally, examining the rock's density and looking for a fusion crust can aid in identification.

Can meteorwrongs have any scientific value?

While meteorwrongs are not of extraterrestrial origin, they can still hold scientific value. They may represent unique geological formations or mineral compositions that are of interest to geologists and collectors. Studying meteorwrongs can also educate individuals on local geology and help refine the skills needed to identify true meteorites in the field.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Read more
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