Meteors and meteorites

Meteorites are some of the oldest rocks in our solar system and studying them helps us understand how the solar system was formed.

Do you know your meteorites from your meteors? Your stony meteorites from your iron meteorites? Take our quiz to test your knowledge!

Meteor shower.
Image: Bill Ingalls / NASA

Although they are both rocks from space, what is the main difference between a meteorite and a meteor? 

Which of the following rocks is a meteorite? 

Meteorites can be tricky for people to identify and there are many different types. Some are dense and heavy, like iron meteorites, while others that have been on Earth a long time will become weathered and look very similar to Earth rocks. This meteorite is a piece of the Murchison meteorite. In 1969, hundreds of fragments of meteorite fell from the sky around the little town on Murchison in Victoria, with many residents collecting pieces shortly afterwards.

Where do most of Earth’s meteorites come from? 

Although some incredibly rare meteorites are fragments of the Moon, Mars or comets, most of the meteorites that land on Earth come from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

What species was wiped out by the impact of a colossal meteorite around 65 million years ago? 

The huge asteroid that scientists believe struck Earth 65 million years ago marked the end of the Cretaceous period and caused the mass extinction of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and many marine reptiles and marine invertebrates. It was approximately 10km wide and made a crater that was a whopping 150km in diameter. Enormous dust clouds generated by the impact would have blocked out much of the Earth’s sunlight, causing plants to die and affecting the food chain for most animals. 

Which of the following Australian landscapes was shaped by the impact of a meteorite? 

The Wolfe Creek crater in Western Australia is about 1km wide and 60 metres deep. Geologists estimate it was created approximately 300,000 years ago by a meteorite weighing 50,000 tonnes (the weight of around 250 blue whales!).

Representations of the Wolfe Creek crater are prominent in the art and stories of the Djaru people, an Indigenous group from the Southern Kimberley region. The largest meteorite crater in Australia
(and one of the largest in the world) is Lake Acraman in South Australia, 90km in diameter.

What is the most common type of meteorite found on Earth? 

Meteorites are grouped by their compositions. 95% of meteorites are made up largely of silicate minerals, and these are called stony meteorites. This stony meteorite is another example of the Murchison meteorite. Meteorites can also be composed of iron and nickel (iron meteorites), or a mixture of metal and silicate minerals (stony-iron meteorites). Meteorites provide clues to the formation of our solar system.

Shooting stars and falling stars are actually meteors. True or false?

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Credits: Images sourced from Museums Victoria and NASA.

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