Here are some simple steps to help you identify a meteorite.
The first question is "Did you find a meteorite?"
As owner of a web site entirely dedicated to meteorites I receive inquiries by email from people who think they have found a meteorite, daily.
Unfortunately from year to year there, only one of these rocks turns out to be a real space rock. Many of them are common stones found on Earth, such as magnetite, hematite and sometimes man-made piece of iron named slag that have oxidized.
I've found a heavy stone!
This is the most common reason people think they have found a meteorite. The density of meteorites is quite a bit higher than most others, so a meteorite feels much heavier than almost all ordinary earth rocks (excepted some basaltic stone).
I've found a black stone!
After the weight, this is the second reason people think they have found a meteorite. During its brief travel through our atmosphere, the surface of the meteorite is melted, as a result the surface of the stone burns and forms a kind of skin (usually dark) called fusion crust.
Just after a meteorite falls, the stone tends to appear darker than common terrestrial rocks. This is why a freshly fallen meteorite will exhibit a black fusion crust.
Step 1 : The 'Magnet Test'
Commonly, meteorites contain a significant amount of iron and nickel, so testing the rock with a magnet is the first step for meteorite hunters. If the stone you expect to be a meteorite is attracted by a magnet, before thanking your lucky stars, remember that many earth rocks are also attracted by a magnet.
Step 2 : The 'Sandpaper Test'
The most common meteorites are chondrites because they are composed by chondrules, which are spheroids. So, if you cut a rock and discover these tiny spheroids it’s a step in the right direction. Take a magnifier, a hand magnifying glass is fine, and look between the spheres to identify some tiny metal flakes of iron-nickel.
Cutting a stone is not easy can be dangerous for fingers, so we recommend a simple test: use sandpaper on the corner of the stone and examine the rubbed face with a magnifier. If the grinded surface displays small round inclusions and metal flakes then you are probably the proud owner of a stony meteorite.
Step 3 : The Nickel Test
The nickel is quite rare on earth even in made-man iron (slag), but present in almost all meteorites.
If you suspect a rock to be a meteorite because the magnet is strongly attracted and the rock heavy as a piece of iron you have to test the piece for nickel.
At this point you have to send us a few gram sample explaining how the piece was found, the weight, size, and photos of the suspected meteorite. We will carefully examine the sample and send it to a laboratory to obtain the percentage of nickel. If the result of the nickel analysis is between 2and 20 %, then you are probably the proud owner of an iron meteorite.