The middle of the summer issue of Meteorite Times is always the hardest for me to find something to write. The gem show is over, and it is too hot to go hunting for meteorites in the desert. The world of meteorites is several systems that interconnect and work together for the most part. They do not always work as fast as we might want. I have waited for a long time on some occasions to get meteorites finally official. But I realize the workloads the researchers have and that there are backlogs that I have to wait through.
As the years have gone by the number of places to get classification work done has gotten a little smaller. And my choices of what I will send off to be worked on have gotten harder to make. In the distant past, I could have sent all my small unclassified meteorites off to the local university, and one of the famous scientists there would get around to them sometime in the next few months and do the analysis for free. I would get the information back and submit the stone to the Nomenclature Committee myself, and those stones would be official. Now it is quite different. The rush of material that has poured out of various areas of the world over the last couple decades has filled every moment of some researchers’ time. The meteorites that they particularly desired for their own work have gone from a tiny handful available to study to hundreds in some cases. The scientists are thrilled. While at the same time further searching for additional specimens through classifying new finds became less needed. So now some labs no longer do “ordinary chondrites” which is an odd term for many of us. We understand what the scientists mean by the word. Still “plain” or “simple” might be better words than ordinary. There have arisen a couple of private classification services that can be used, and some university-based testing facilities continue to accept all meteorites for analysis. More often there is a fee now to have the work done. That’s ok. I try to remember that I am sending off the rarest material on the planet and that it did not originate here, so it is worth finding out what it exactly is even if it costs me some money.
I do find myself sitting here looking at a significant number of stones that though small are worthy of analysis knowing that it will not happen for them. I am also looking at a smaller group of stones that are quite special and actually should be classified, but it has become just difficult enough to prevent me sending them off. I just hate the idea of getting that email back saying, “Sorry we won’t test them for you.” Like 80% of the other things we worry about in life that never actually happen, I might not get that email. But I would be embarrassed if I did. So I often send some information ahead of the specimens a couple of images and a description of what makes the stone a little different and worthy of study. I get pre-approved so to speak.
I have been around rocks and meteorites most of my life. I collect them, cut them, sell them, and write about how to recognize them in the wild. Even with all that experience, I have a few stones that I am not sure what they are. I have thought about sending one of them off to be tested for years. It is one of the weirdest rocks I have ever considered to be a meteorite. I have even thought about carrying it in my pocket the next time I go to some meteorite gathering and ask a few real experts what they think of the darn thing. It is shown in the next image.
It has no fusion crust. It has a heavily stained interior. And it had no visible metal at the moment I began writing this. But it has the ghostly remains of what look to be faint chondrules. It has the faintest hint of what might be two clasts of different material. It is also able to hold a small rare earth magnet in only a few places as if it might have just a little metal in there not visible now on the cut surface.
This is the cut surface as it was when I picked the odd ball stone for this article. If you look at this image full screen and stare at it for a couple of minutes, round shapes will begin to emerge from the flat brown/gray matrix. There is not a single chondrule in the whole stone that wants to stand out and say “I am a chondrule see me here I am.” But every time I have looked at this stone I have said to myself “I think I see them. . .maybe.”
It was cut about fifteen years ago by another meteorite dealer who then just tossed it somewhere in a box I guess. When we got it much later in a batch of stones, it was pretty dark and dull on the cut surfaces, as can be seen in the image above.
It has a shape that is not inconsistent with what a meteorite could have. The outside is a light tan color that is not meteorite like at all. No vugs or pores or veins of crystal are in the stone. No layers or angular structures to tip the guesser off as to what terrestrial rock it could be. So you guess.
I personally had no idea for sure if it was a meteorite as I wrote that last sentence enticing you to guess. I originally followed it with this sentence. “I have resisted putting it on the lap and wasting more to create a fresh surface. I think I may do that soon though.” Well. I finished the article and went about other jobs for about a week and then it became time to shoot the images. I tried hard to shoot the cut surface. You can see the image above. But it was just too old and weathered from its years of sitting in a cardboard box somewhere before we got it. So it was off to the garage, and I put it on the lap. A few seconds on each half stone and the surface was refreshed. And bingo. As I carried it into the house to photograph it I saw them on the very tippy tip of the end where the stone was not so darkly stained, metal grains shining in the sun. So the story of this part of the article has changed from the original conception of a mysterious stone that I was leaving for you to guess about along with me, because that issue has been resolved. It is a meteorite, and the ghostly faint chondrule things are maybe just that. Still, it is a weird stone still since everything is just a little off the norm for identification.
Here are those metal grains on the tiny single spot at the very edge of the stone. But they are there and on both halves of the stone. Since such metal grains are diagnostic for meteorites, I can now say that this is a meteorite even if it does not look like it.
Besides that strange stone, I have a small batch of ten meteorites that total just 56.5 grams. I cut up one of the stones that weighed 7.37 grams and made nine tiny slices and endpieces. After just the first slice I could see the batch is a very cool type of meteorite. Packed with colorful chondrules that are quite distinct but not pristine. But it is just a quarter cup of meteorites only 56.5 grams. That’s less weight than most of the individual unclassified I have collected over the years. It would be nice to know what these stones are though. But I doubt that it will happen.
The following images are of several of the cut surfaces from the slices I made from the one stone I cut.
I don’t keep very many meteor-wrongs anymore. It has to be pretty special to come home now. But once in a while, I will find something that is really unusual. Some years ago I made a conscious decision to expand my perception while hunting to include as best as I could achondrites and planetary meteorites and to be less dependent on what color the stone was or whether it responded to a magnet or if I could see chondrules or what it did to a metal detector. Not that there is anything less important about finding chondrites, but it would be so cool to find a lunar or martian or HED meteorite. So I was hunting a few years ago and found this stone. It had a distinctly meteorite color and appearance on the outside but with an added texture of small lighter colored speckles. It would not really hold a magnet, but rare earth magnets will stick and drag along with it when moved across a table. But many types of igneous terrestrial rocks that have enough iron to do that. It is likely terrestrial, but I think I would prefer to hear it from someone with more knowledge. I did cut an endpiece off and give it to an individual that was doing classifications years ago. He never got back to me, and so I have been left wondering and an endpiece short.
I sometimes read the Facebook pages where people say what is a meteorite or what is not by looking at images submitted by finders of stones. They seem so confident that some rocks are not meteorites based off those often poor quality pictures. On occasion, I am cutting in my saw authentic meteorites that are just as ugly and un meteoritic in appearance. I wonder how many actual meteorites are being missed and tossed aside. I understand how rare rocks from space are and how hard they are to find. I have put in the many months of total days hunting meteorites in my life. I have left camp at 7 AM and not returned until 4 or 5 PM as the sun was going down. Often returning without finding anything from outer space. But I long ago gave up trying to make any determination off a photograph. There are just too many real ones that look like they are not. I have one I am currently cutting that is quite an old meteorite. It has weathered in a way that created the appearance of lines and layers. Almost a sedimentary look to the stone. It is banded in colors that make it look very sedimentary. But cut it or put a magnet on it and it is full of old metal. To be sure it is weathered but there are chondrules and metal grains, and someone recognized its potential despites its appearance and sent it in to be classified. It has been an official meteorite for many years. But I am still a little shocked every time I grab a chunk of it to cut by how much less like a meteorite it looks than some of the stones on the internet.
This is an 833-gram chunk of an ugly chondrite. It is about 15 centimeters long. It does not look much like a meteorite until it is cut. I would hope at this point that I would pick something like this up but if I was looking for meteorites of different appearance in a known strewnfield a rock like this could be overlooked.
Then there are stones older still such as Al Haggounia. Uncut large chunks of it have nothing to say they are meteorites. It has almost no metal. It has almost no chondrules. You have to make quite a few cuts in some pieces before you hit your first chondrule. When you do it is obvious that it is a chondrule, and some of the chondrules are quite large but, they are scarce. Al Haggounia has 20 or more names and designations now and classifications all over the place. It clearly is not an Aubrite though it is looking like that will never change in the official listing for it. Yes, revisions and papers have been written, but that has not removed the Aubrite classification from the page. Does it look like a meteorite before cutting? No. How many stones like that have I passed by in the desert while my view was too narrow?
If it was just a little easier to get some of the odd and weird rocks examined, we might be surprised by what turns up from our hunting. It is nice to compartmentalize what meteorites look like and how to identify them. I wrote a book on the topic: “Meteorites-How to Recognize Visitors from Outer Space.” The book has done rather well actually. Full of images of meteorites and close ups of slices of every type. But I am just as at fault as those who try to identify every rock from an image and give a firm yes or no. There will always be meteorites that just do not fit in the compartments. And unfortunately, the process to get them tested is less available and lengthy in time. But it can be done. And most of the weird and strange rocks will not be meteorites. My weird one in this article is likely not. But I would like to know. I have confidence in the scientists that do the work and if they say they are terrestrial rocks I can be sure that they are not meteorites. It would be really cool, however, to find something totally new. I personally stopped identifying suspect rocks for people long ago. Too many individuals have invested so much hoping and dreaming into their stones that they are unable to hear any bad news.
I am sure that when the weather cools off, and I get back into the desert I will find a few more very weird rocks that will come home with a big question mark across them. Maybe someday I will send a few off to labs. My favorite labs are used to receiving real meteorites from me. I’ll see what they say about my “maybe not” meteorite stones. I might not be so well received later when I have another genuine space rock to send.
Years ago one lab said they received 6 or 7 thousand stones a year to examine and in that batch was only a single true meteorite. Would my questionable stones be so strange that they would never make it through the initial visual test? Might I not be better off to hold onto the stones until I can have a face to face with someone and plead the stones individual merits? After all, I would have left them in the desert myself if there had not been something to make me wonder if they could be from outer space.