Frequently Asked Questions:

Many of the common questions I am asked regarding meteorites and impactites are listed below. A few of these questions are related to topics that are very important to any meteorite or impactite collection, so I've tried to provide as much detail as possible to assist you with your query. Make sure to visit the Star Catching About page and Help page if you have questions about me or need help using the Star Catching Website.

Question: What is a Meteoroid, Meteor and Meteorite?

Answer: Briefly, a meteoroid is a piece of cosmic debris. When a meteoroid comes into contact with the Earth's atmosphere and begins to glow brightly, the glow is called a meteor. If the material survives the passage through our atmosphere and hits the ground, it is called a meteorite.
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Artist rendition of meteoroids in the asteroid belt
Meteoroids: Any of the small chunks of debris in space ranging in size from dust particles to huge boulders. Very large meteoroids are generally called asteroids. Most meteoroids originate from the asteroid belt or are cast off of comets as they orbit our sun. There are rare cases where meteoroids are actually small pieces of other large body, like the moon and Mars. These planetary debris get thrown into space when massive impacts blast off material with enough force to escape their parent bodies gravitational pull.
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The spectacular Peekskill meteor, October 9th, 1992
Meteors: If you look up in the night sky and see a shooting star, you are in fact witnessing a meteor. A meteor is the visible light produced when a small piece of interplanetary debris burns up as it comes into contact with our atmosphere. The light is the result of the particle being heated up by friction with air molecules in our upper atmosphere. It is important to note that the meteor is the light you see shooting across the sky, not the debris itself.
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In situ picture of a 27.04 gram Whetstone Mountains meteorite found on December 12th, 2009
Meteorites: If the conditions are right, a meteoroid (the object that created the visible meteor) can survive its violent impact with our atmosphere and make it to the ground. Once it comes in contact with the earth, it is called a meteorite. Meteorites can range in size from dust particles that harmlessly float down to the surface of the earth, to massive objects that create large impact craters on the surface of our planet.
There are many resources on the internet that contain more detail regarding meteoroids, meteors and meteorites. I found a very informative video called "What is a Meteor?", available on YouTube.

Question: What are tektites? Are they meteorites?

Tektites are a natural high-silica glass rock formed by the impact of large meteorites on the Earth's surface. A tektite can range in size from the microscopic to weights of many kilograms. They generally have aerodynamically formed shapes like buttons, teardrops and dumbbells. In some ways, tektites resemble obsidian glasses that are formed from volcanic activity here on earth. However, tektites are special in that they contain about 1000 times less water than obsidian, exhibit a low alkali content, and contain different types of iron and materials than normal terrestrial glass.

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General locations of the major strewn fields: Australasian, Central American, Central European, North American, and West African(Ivory Coast). Note: The K-T Boundry covers a majority of the surface of the earth.
Known tektite strewn fields
Tektites are not meteorites. They are in fact made of silica from the earth that was rapidly melted under the extreme heat produced by the impact of a very large meteorite. These events are so violent and massive that specimens can be thrown out of the Earth's atmosphere and rain down over thousands of miles from the actual impact site. For instance, the impact event that produced the Australasian tektites scattered glass over 20% of the surface of the Earth. It has been argued that these tektite producing impacts are extinction level events.

The term "Tektite" was first coined by F.E. Seuss, an Austrian geologist in 1900, from the Greek word tektos meaning molten. They are found scattered about the surface of the Earth in many localities called "strewn fields." There are currently 6 known strewn fields: the Australasian, Central American, Central European, K-T Boundry, North American, and West African(Ivory Coast). The ages of the strewnfields range from 780,000 years to 35 million years ago.

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Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson examining a selection of tektites assembled from strewnfields around the Earth.
Lyndon B. Johnson examining
a selection of tektites
Tektites come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are found sometimes as irregular blobs and fragments, but often they are in a generalized shape called a "splash" form. Splash forms include spheres, discs, rods, teardrops, dumbbells and combinations of these shapes. There are many other shape varieties due to spallation, distortions while the material was still molten, and to weathering effects while in the ground.

Though we've only been studying the meteoric nature of tektites in the last century, they have been found in archaeological sites dating back thousands of years. Ancient civilizations took advantage of the glassy nature of tektites and used them for making cutting edges, flaked tools and jewelry.

Want to know more about tektites? Aubrey Whymark has created what I consider to be the best tektite Website resource on the Internet: Tektites.co.uk. I hignly recommend his sight for any of your tektite queries.

Question: What is the difference between an Impactite and a Tektite?

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A 31.4 gram impact glass specimen from Henbury crater, Northern Territory, Australia. These age of these impact glasses have are 42,000 years old (± 1,900 years.)
31.4 gram Henbury impactite
An impactite is a more general term used to describe a rock created or modified by the impact of a meteorite. While all tektites are impactites, not all impactites are considered tektites. The term impactite also includes rocks that are melted together or physically changed because of a meteorite impact. Suevites (melted rocks), shatter cones and impact glasses are other types of impactites. Many smaller craters, such as the Meteor Crater in Arizona and the Henbury craters in Australia, produce a gritty impact glass that can be found close to the impact site. These glasses tend to be less homogeneous then their tektite cousins.

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In 1998, an Italian mineralogist discovered that a carved scarab in King Tutankhamen breastplate was not made of chalcedony, but instead was carved from Libyan Desert Glass.
Kink Tutankhamen's breastplate
with Lyban Desert Glass scarab
Some of the best known impactites (and one of my favorites) are called Libyan Desert Glass. Libyan Desert glass has uniformly higher silica content than tektites, and shows no evidence of aerodynamic sculpturing. Many of the fragments show distinct layers, characteristic of the Muong-Nong tektites of southeast Asia. This glass is found in the Great Sand Sea on the border of Libya and Egypt. The glass can be clear to "frothy" and range in color from yellow to a deep green. The glass has been dated at approximately 28 million years old and is thought to be related to the Kebira crater discovered in March of 2006. The Kebira crater is more than 20 times the diameter of meteor crater near Winslow, Arizona.

Probably one of the most historically significant discoveries regarding Libyan Desert Glass is related to ancient Egyptian artifacts. In 1998, Italian Mineralogist Vincenzo de Michele was visiting the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to study the gems and precious stones Egyptians crafted into their jewelry. He happened to notice that the yellow-green scarab at the center of King Tutankhamen's breastplate, long assumed to be chalcedony, looked like glass. More detailed examination of the scarab confirmed it to be made from Libyan Desert Glass.

Question: I think I found a meteorite / tektite... what should I do?

This is a question I get via email at least once a day... either from the Star Catching contact form or from my contact form on the Meteorite Association of Georgia Website. I never want to discourage the enthusiasm of a new meteorite hunter or collector, but I feel it is important to let you know that less than 1% of reported discoveries are actually meteorites or tektites. Most of the time, these finds turn out to be "Meteor-Wrongs" instead of Meteorites... They are usually some kind of terrestrial (earth-based) rock or something that is a by-product of a man-made process... like smelting and refining.

With this in mind, there are some very basic things you can do to research your potential meteorite or tektite:
  1. One of the best ways is to compare your sample with other known meteorites and tektites. There are several links to other collections and resources on my Star Catching Links page. Make sure to look through the pictures to get an idea of the type of material you might have.
  2. There is a lot of information on the Internet regarding meteorite identification, and even a few for tektites. I've listed several of these resources on my Star Catching Links page. Make sure to read through this material and compare it to your specimen to see if you have a terrestrial rock, or something potentially meteoritic. The information on these pages will help you rule out hematite, man-made glass and other earth-based minerals.
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    Looking at the possible tektite with resident impact and tektite expert, R. Scott Harris
    Examining potential tektites
    under the microscope
  4. If you still think you might have found a meteorite or tektite, feel free to send me a good quality pictures via email. Make sure to take the best quality picture you can with your digital camera. If the pictures are too blurry, too far away, low resolution, false color, etc. I won't be able to assist in the determination.
  5. If your specimen turns out to be a possible meteorite (to be official) you will have to send in 20% if the mass of the specimen (or 20 grams, whichever is smaller) to a meteorite testing facility. You can find them by searching on "Meteorite Testing Labs" on the Internet. Validating tektites requires chemical analysis of the glass and argon dating to determine when it was created. Since tektites are very close in composition to obsidian, validating tektites can be a difficult process. Testing labs may not get around to your specimen for several months. The current charges to test a suspected meteorite run from $150.00-$300.00.
  6. Another great way to test your find is to bring it to other meteorite collectors. A good place to start is to search on the Internet for clubs and organization in your area. If you are in the South East United States, I invite you to bring your specimens to our next Meteorite Association of Georgia meeting. They post meetings on their Events page.
If your rock turns out to be something other than a meteorite or tektite, don't get discouraged! Keep hunting!

Question: Do you sell any of your meteorites or impactites?

Available for Trade

Just look for the
little recycle icon
Generally speaking, no. The Star Catching Website is a vehicle to showcase my personal meteorite and tektite collection. However, I do end up with duplicate specimen types in my collection from time to time. When that happens, I am usually willing to part with some of those duplicates. Usually, instead of selling an item, I prefer to trade for a specimen that I don't have in my collection.

If a specimen in my collection is a duplicate that I am willing to part with, you can see it in the "Available for Trade" list on the browse Meteorites by Category and Impactites by Category pages. If you click on the "Available for Trade" link in the category tree, you can see the available stone meteorites, iron meteorites, stoney iron meteorites, tektites and impactities that are currently shown on the Website.

Question: How do you catalog your collection?

Answer: GREAT QUESTION! Since I think that this is a critical feature of any collection, I'm going to give you a detailed account of how I document my collection. Why is this important? Much of the value of a meteorite is related to its history. I took inspiration from Dave Gheesling's article "Temporary Custodians", added a few ideas of my own, and have been methodically documenting every piece of my collection ever since.
  • Purchase information:
    I take great care to document everything when I purchase a meteorite or impactite. I print and screen capture any relevant information (like eBay pages, emails, etc.) related to the purchase. Note that I didn't just say SAVE... I also said PRINT. This is important. If you have all of your collection information only in a digital form, you could lose that information in a system crash... Of course, keep backups, but I recommend a physical copy as well. I also save any of the original photos of the specimen that were taken by the seller. I also take an extra step of scanning in the cover of the package once I receive it in the post. It seems like an odd step, but having the sellers return address scanned into the computer, along with the postmarked date on the package is a great reference. I did not want to have a huge stack of old boxes lying around, so once scanned I usually discard the packaging.
  • Collection reference spreadsheet:
    I keep a spreadsheet of my collection that contains the following fields: Meteorite Name, Classification, Weight (Grams), Specimen Cost, Shipping Cost, Estimated Value, Seller Name, Date of Purchase, Specimen Description, Provenance included and General Comments. Having all of this information in a spreadsheet is great for quick reference and to sum columns to see how much you've spent. This is a great thing to use to determine the value of your collection for insurance purposes as well.
  • Website:
    How can I not mention the Star Catching Website when talking about my collection provenance. The Website contains most of the same information that I've cataloged in the spreadsheet, but in a graphically pleasant form. In addition to the specific collection information, the Website allows me to provide some history for the meteorite or impactite. The collection of information can help educate and entertain anyone who is looking through the Star Catching Website pages. It is a great way to allow people from all over the world to see the specimens in your collection. If you do not have the time or resources to create your own Website, there is another fantastic resource you can use. The International Meteorite Collectors Association (IMCA) has a free Website called the Encyclopedia of Meteorites that you can use to showcase your collection. You can add images and details regarding your specimens and also see statistics related to your collection. It is a great way to document your collection and also to see other collections.
  • Physical Catalog:
    The spreadsheet and original images is only part of how I keep provenance for my collection. I take any of the physical copies of the provenance info, including any original labels sent to me with the specimen, and keep them in alpha-numeric indexed files. Much easier to find than searching through stacks of papers. Since this is physical documentation, it would be wise to keep it in a water-proof / fire-proof safe. Here are a few pictures so you can see how I setup my storage for the documentation for my specimens:
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Provenance envelope box with alpha-numeric sorted tabs
This is the box of tab-sorted envelopes I use to store provenance data for my collection. To organize the envelopes, I trimmed down 8.5" x 11" to fit the size of the envelopes. Some envelopes only contain the original certificates of authenticity, while others contain emails and receipts. I find this method valuable since it makes researching provenance and passing off pieces for trade much simpler.
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Specimen and matching envelope label
I use the same type of label for the envelope that I do for the specimen. Here you can see a close up of the labels I made for the envelope and the specimen membrane box. In most cases, the matching label I print is for the membrane box or other specimen storage container. It's a nice way to keep things from getting mixed up. Here are the products used to create the catalog:
Best of luck with your collection! I hope that some of this information helps you maintain the provenance of your collection. Remember, Your collection is only as good as your documentation!

Question: Who made the Star Catching Website?

Answer: I did. I've been designing and coding Websites for several years now. Much of the site is custom coded in CSS, HTML and JavaScript. I did not use any WYSIWYG packages - just a straight text editor and the Firefox Firebug debugging utility. To say I "used JavaScript" on Star Catching is a bit mild... This Website is *heavily* coded with JavaScript. Entire sections (header, footer, collection lists, collection data, widgets, etc.) are derived from custom JavaScript code. If you have it turned off in your browser, I strongly recommend you turn it back on to experience the full design and functionality. To give credit where credit is due, there are a few sections of the site where I used some third party applications to speed up development:
DIY World Map by John Emerson
The only non-HTML/JavaScript portion of the site is the Flash based code "DIY World Map". It is used for the Browse Meteorites by Location and Browse Impactities by Location world maps. A wonderful, flexible application. I recommend you visit John's site and view the User Gallery.
dTree by Geir Landrõ
There are many many scripts like this out on the Web, but I liked the simplicity of this application best. It is used for the tree style Browse Meteorites by Category and Browse Impactities by Category pages. It is a clean, simple and flexible application.
Highslide JS by Highsoft
Highslide, used for the Star Catching photo gallery and image popups, is a fantastic slideshow application. I had previously used a Flash based product, but switched to be compatible with more browsers. It is Very flexible, easy to implement, and offers many variations.
Highcharts JS by Highsoft
Highcharts is the amazing engine behind the Meteorite and Impactite collection statistics pages. This package was a dream compared to the five other flash based applications I attempted to implement. It is a *very* flexible and (most importantly) stable package.

Question: What is the gold cube pictured with your specimens?

Scale Cube Vendors:

You have probably seen photos on eBay or other Websites where people place an object next to a coin or a ruler to help provide a reference for the scale of the object. Scale cubes are used in the same manner: To visually determine the relative size and point of reference of an object in a photograph. Since the focal point of specimen photos can vary, without some scale for reference the size of an object would not be easily determined. The markings on each face of the cube (Top, Bottom, North, South, East and West) are used to indicate which side of the object the viewer is seeing in the photograph.

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A 69.9 gram Whetstone Mountains meteorite specimen in situ with a black scale cube for reference.
In situ meteorite with black scale cube
The first applications of scale cubes as a reference in photographic documentation date from the 1970's. NASA is generally considered as the creator of the original concept, using them for photographing lunar rocks returned from the Apollo moon missions and later for meteorites recovered in Antarctica. Both 1 centimeter and 1 inch sized cubes have been used, but the 1 centimeter cubes are the most widely used. They are most commonly used in photographing rocks and minerals, but can be used as a reference for any photograph -- Even reptiles and amphibians!*

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A close up view of the "S." face of my scale cube, used as the icon for the Star Catching Website and in all my specimen photos.
Star Catching
"S." cube logo
You may have noticed that I always show the "S" side of the scale cube in my photos. I don't use the cube to determine orientation, instead I use my scale cube to help the viewer determine the relative size of the meteorites and impactites in my collection. I also use the "S" face of the cube as the icon for the Star Catching Website... "S" is for Star Catching!

Want to know more about scale cubes? Dr. Svend Buhl has written a wonderful article about scale cubes on his Meteorite Recon Website: "The origin of Species, A Lesson in Scale Cube History."

Question: What are the different specimen shapes for your meteorites?

Answer: While there is no formal set of descriptions used for meteorite collections, there are some generally accepted terms used to describe the physical shape of a specimen. Many times, specimens in a meteorite collection are only small portions of individual meteorites that have been cut and polished to expose the interior. I try to limit the description of my meteorite specimens to the following terms:
  • Main Mass: The largest known specimen from a particular fall. Main Mass is also used to describe the largest remaining piece of a particular meteorite after it has been sliced.
  • Individual: A complete meteorite of any size which may or may not be missing crust in places. Any small missing surface area can be due to an air break, weathering or chipping due to the impact with the ground.
  • Broken Individual: A mostly a complete meteorite with some pieces broken off. Not as complete as an Individual but much more complete than a fragment. Stony meteorites that have undergone more severe weathering, or have hit hard surfaces will often be broken.
  • Split Individual: An individual that has been cut into one or more pieces, but has all pieces present. Included in this definition would be Cut Individual, Sliced Individual, Sectioned Individual...
  • Windowed Individual: An individual with a small portion, generally much less than 25%, cut or sanded away. Also called a Windowed Individual, this type of cut exposes a window into the interior of the specimen, while leaving a majority of the exterior intact.
  • Slice: Think if this as the center cuts from a loaf of cut bread -- a slice has two cut faces, opposite one another. The outer edge of the slice is the meteorite's natural exterior.
  • Part Slice: A slice that has been sectioned. Continuing with our bread metaphor, think of a part slice as a center slice of bread with one or more edges trimmed off.
  • End Cut: Think if this as the ends of a loaf of cut bread -- the end cut or end slice of an individual meteorite. End cuts have one cut surface while the remaining surface is the meteorite's natural exterior.
  • Part End Cut: An end cut that has 2 cut surfaces. Partial end cuts are usually in a pie or wedged shape. Using our example of a sliced loaf of bread, think of a part end cut as an end slice of bread with one or more edges trimmed off.
  • Block Cut: These are general "squarish" or polygonal shapes, with five or six cut faces in the rough shape of a cube, rectangle or wedge.
  • Fragment: A small rough and broken part of a meteorite. Fragments can be many kilograms, or down to just a gram.
  • Cut Fragment: A small rough and broken part of a meteorite with at least 1 cut or sanded face.
  • Thin Section: A very thin slice of meteorite mounted on a glass slide for microscopic study. The slice is so thin that light can pass through the specimen.
  • Micro: A very small piece of a meteorite. Usually, meteorites fragments are less than 1 gram. If it is hard to see, chances are it is a micro. For the purposes of keeping my list short, I have included cutting dust and tiny metal spheroids in this category.
  • Custom or Customized: Meteorites that have been altered or shaped by man for art or function. Some meteorites have been shaped into jewelry, polished spheres, carvings and even arrowheads.
Note: Though I tend to stick to this list, sometimes I may combine terms to more accurately describe a specimen. I will stray from the above list ONLY it seems obvious or critical.

Have another question? Please feel free to Contact Me.