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Meteorite | What Exactly is It?



meteorite mineral in a museum display cabinet



Meteorites Originate in Outer Space

A meteorite is a natural object that originated in outer space which has survived an impact with the Earth's surface without being destroyed. Whilst still in space the object is called a meteoroid but once it enters the Earth's atmosphere resistance to air causes it to heat up and emit light hence forming a fireball.  The object is then becomes known as a meteor or shooting star.

Meteorites tend to be fragments of rock and/or metal which have broken away from a larger extraterrestrial body.  They can measure anything from a fraction of a millimetre to the size of a football pitch and much much larger. The largest ever meteorite to have collided with Earth is believed to have been approximately six to nine miles in diameter.

Captured by Earth's gravitational force they are accelerated to speeds of over 11.2 kilometres per second.  As they enter Earth's thick gassy atmosphere they slow down rapidly because of friction and begin to glow flashing across the sky like a firework before finally crashing to the ground.  Most meteorites disintegrate when entering Earth's atmosphere however thousands are still found all over the world each year.  It is very rare to actually see one hit the ground becuase most seem to fall into the sea.  The best place to spot a meteorite is in dry places such as deserts where they do not erode so quickly and are less likely to be obscured by vegetation.

Most meteorites are fragments that have come away as two asteroids collide.  Asteroids are irregular shaped rocks that orbit the sun and there are many thousands in our solar system.  A small proportion come from the moon and Mars and these pieces can be as young as 180 million years old.

Meteorites are very occasionally used as gemstones because of their rarity.  They're also used in alternative therapies because their healing properties include being able to balance energy, improve endurance and help deal with the effects of sadness.  In many cultures they're looked upon as being a sacred object.

The iron nickel meteorite in our photograph is on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.  The photo is clickable and redirects to the original image. 



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