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A Meteorite Hit My House

It’s true. A meteorite hit my house in Colorado and I survived the impact. Okay, so maybe the meteorite was small in size… very small… so small you’d need a microscope to see it… but I was hit. Chances are your house has been hit by a few thousand micrometeorites, and you’ll be able to find a few if you know the secret place to look. The next time it rains, place a bucket under a drain spout in order to collect a good quantity of rain. Get rid of the leaves and roofing materials and then sift the remains through a bit of old window screen. What you’re after is so small that you’ll need a very strong magnet, like a Neodymium Magnet to find them. Use this super-strong magnet to determine if any of the remaining particles contain iron. Those particles may be space dust, also known as micrometeorites.

Place the collected particles under a microscope – high power will be required to see them clearly. The micrometeorites will show signs of their fiery trip through the atmosphere — they will be rounded and may have small pits on their surfaces. Most meteorites falling through earth’s atmosphere will burn up before landing on earth, but some will reach the earth in microscopic sizes.

I recently ran across a fantastic article on finding micrometeorites in your backyard by Robert Beauford who is an expert in all things meteorite. The article steps you through the process of finding micrometeorites and the necessary background to create a killer science fair project.

Here’s part of the abstract…

Pieces of rock and metal frequently collide with Earth’s upper atmosphere. Most of these are no bigger than a golf ball but are traveling at tens of thousands of kilometers per hour. The atmosphere is very thin at this altitude of 80 to 100 kilometers (50 to 62 miles), however, it creates enough friction to cause these travelers from space to heat up to temperatures that make them burn brightly. These are the fireballs in the sky that are rightly called meteors, although they are often referred to as “shooting stars.”

Most meteors burn up completely in the atmosphere and never reach the ground. Those that survive the trip and reach the surface of Earth are called meteorites. While it is generally believed that meteorites are fairly rare, in reality about 30,000 tons of extraterrestrial material are deposited on Earth each year; bits of comets, chunks of asteroids, debris from the formation of our solar system more than four billion years ago. So why aren’t meteorites seen more often sitting on the ground? First of all, the largest portion of this material falls into the oceans, and secondly, most of the material that reaches the surface is microscopic, much too small to be noticed. These are the tiny specimens known as micrometeorites. As tons of micrometeorites fall each year, they gently land in our fields, on our homes, and on us.

One of the best places to study micrometeorites is Antarctica. In this isolated environment, very little earth-born debris falls, so any particles found on the clean South Pole ice have a greater likelihood of being extraterrestrial. In fact, what may be the largest collection of micrometeorites is in the hands of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratories.

Since most of us can’t arrange a field trip Antarctica, here is a way that you can collect micrometeorites in your hometown with the help of the rain. Micrometeorites fall everywhere, but collect very nicely on roofs. When rain falls, “space dust” is washed off the roof and through the downspouts. Position a deep bowl or bucket under a downspout. Many things will collect in your bucket; leaves, twigs, sands, etc. Collect this material from your bucket and dry it out. Remove the larger pieces of debris, such as leaves, and spread the remaining material on a sheet of paper (or plastic). Slowly run a strong neodymium magnet back and forth under the paper. (Note: Whenever using a neodymium magnet to collect particles, it’s always a good idea to place it in a plastic bag to keep it clean.) When you feel you have attracted most of the metallic particles, tilt the paper up so that the non-ferrous materials fall from the sheet.

Much of what you have collected will be Earth born debris. To find the micrometeorites you will need to examine the collected particles under a microscope. High power will be required to see them clearly. Look for particles that are rounded and may have small pits on their surface. This is evidence of a micrometeorite’s fiery trip through the atmosphere.

40 replies
  1. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I encouraged my son to try this experiment for his science fair project. The neodymium magnet that I purchased from Steve Spangler Science worked great – it’s really strong! At first we really didn’t know what to look for – you know, what does a micrometeorite look like? The secret was to look at the magnetic material that we collected under a microscope. Absolutely amazing!

    Reply
  2. Larry
    Larry says:

    Steve,
    I found what appears to be a fist sized meteorite. Does it have any scientific or monetary value and how do I identify if it is really a meteorite?

    Reply
  3. Steve
    Steve says:

    Wow! I’d contact your local Museum of Science and Nature to find out. Any pictures we might be able to publish on the blog?

    Reply
  4. Kelly Wedding
    Kelly Wedding says:

    I’ve looked for the Robert Beauford article on line with no success. I have a student who would like to do this project. Any help would be appreciated.

    Reply
  5. Steve
    Steve says:

    Micrometeorites fall everywhere, but collect very nicely on roofs. When rain falls, “space dust” is washed off the roof and through the downspouts. Position a deep bowl or bucket under a downspout. Many things will collect in your bucket; leaves, twigs, sands, etc. Collect this material from your bucket and dry it out. Remove the larger pieces of debris, such as leaves, and spread the remaining material on a sheet of paper (or plastic). Slowly run a strong neodymium magnet back and forth under the paper. (Note: Whenever using a neodymium magnet to collect particles, it’s always a good idea to place it in a plastic bag to keep it clean.) When you feel you have attracted most of the metallic particles, tilt the paper up so that the non-ferrous materials fall from the sheet.

    Much of what you have collected will be Earth born debris. To find the micrometeorites you will need to examine the collected particles under a microscope. High power will be required to see them clearly. Look for particles that are rounded and may have small pits on their surface. This is evidence of a micrometeorite’s fiery trip through the atmosphere.

    Reply
  6. John Leach
    John Leach says:

    My son and I collected some material washed down from the roof. We had several particles that stuck to the magnet that were visible. Are all the particles that stick to the magnet from space?

    Reply
  7. Steve
    Steve says:

    I’m no expert in this area. People who know more than me suggest that you examine the collected particles under a high power microscope and look for particles that are rounded and may have small pits on their surface. This is a fairly good indicator that you’ve found a micrometeorite.

    Reply
  8. J!MMY
    J!MMY says:

    Not everything that sticks to a magnet is a micro meteor there are also certain rocks with high quantities of iron in them and also stick to magnets if you go to the beach with a magnet this becomes obvious

    neodymium magnets are awesome!!

    Reply
  9. Joel Wong
    Joel Wong says:

    where to get those neodymium magnets cause my mom do not allow me to buy dangerous strong magnets but I collect some meteorites using strong ferrite magnets

    Reply
  10. RED
    RED says:

    hey im doing a science fair project about micrometeorites it is a really cool subject. but it is really cool that it hit ur house because they are very unusual

    Reply
  11. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    Hi Steve! I also cannot find the article by Robert Beauford. Can you perhaps send me a link? Also, we have positioned buckets under drainpipes, but only seem to be able to collect roofing materials. (I had no idea they were remotely metallic, must be iron) We have alo positioned buckets away from the roof in an attempt to avoid more roofing material. After a week, we have found 3 objects that are not so round, but are black with pits. They look charred, but I can’t make out anything under a microscope… If we can’t find anything I suppose we’ll need to change our science fair topic before it gets too late. Any help would be greatly appreciated Steve! (oh, but we are having great fun with the neo magnet)

    Reply
  12. Steve
    Steve says:

    I wasn’t aware that thousands of tons of micrometeorites fall to Earth each year – very interesting. There is a lot of magnetite dust you can find in any sandy place such as a beach. Use a strong magnet – doesn’t have to be neo to separate the magnetite from the sand. Keep your magnet in a plastic ziploc bag to keep it clean otherwise you will never get all the particles back off. This magnetite dust will be black and can be used like iron filings to trace magnetic lines. Most of the dust will be magnetite, but there are a few other minerals that are also attracted.

    Reply
  13. Steve
    Steve says:

    I have also heard that meteorites that are more significant in size typically sell for around $20 per gram (or was it per ounce???). If you do find a real meteorite, don’t let it go cheap.

    Reply
  14. old timer
    old timer says:

    THE INFO ABOUT COLLECTING MICROMETEORITES BROUGHT BACK FOUND MEMORIES I WON THE SCIENCE FAIR BY A BUCKET AND A VERY STRONG MAG UNDER A DOWNSPOUT THE PARTICALS I COLLECTED WERE ABOUT RICE SICE SIZE I WAS VERY LUCKY THIS WAS BACK IN 1965

    Reply
  15. Connie
    Connie says:

    I’m pretty sure, while panning for gold, I found a 70lb meteorite! It’s a small thing but weighs a ton and is silvery/black/rust color with bumps…it’s surely heavy. I saw the way to test is to do a nickel test…so I’m searching for one (wal greens) lost the 3 they were supposed to have on hand…ugh. I was hoping for gold, but hey….if it’s a meteorite I’ll be ok. LOL I’ll keep everyone updated on progress 🙂

    Reply
  16. BillC
    BillC says:

    Years ago on a winter project in northern Canada (I’m an exploration geologist), I did something similar. We had oil stoves in the tents and always had a pan on water on top to increase the humidity. I *scrupulously* cleaned the pan and filled it with snow taken from the middle of the nearby lake. This minimized debris from trees and human activity in camp. By the time we left, I had 1/10 gram of dust. Very tiny, round balls that tested positive for nickle. I mounted some on microscope slides and keep the rest in a small vial. I tried to gather more the enxt year, but there was a volcanic eruption in Alaska, and most of what I got were jagged particles of magnetite. Meteorite material does exist and can be recovered by anyone using proper care. Keep Looking!

    Reply
  17. dave Bradbury
    dave Bradbury says:

    That was so good..Thanks. But you must be aware that not all micro/m’s are spherical. I do have a (self made) method to extract M/M s from normal soil I am very happy about this and is giving 200 + per 2 Kg of soil. I also have a method of analysis (chemical) to prove they DO contain Ni. my method is a bit long but it gives a lot of M/Ms. If you want this method I am prepared to share.
    Dave Bradbury..UK.

    Reply
  18. Boris
    Boris says:

    Cool, just collected some nice m.m’s all nice ball’s.
    I used a stainles pin that is just a bit magnetic.
    some of hem are rock like, black ,up to 1mm, also lost of stuff from the local power plant/ship yard
    the kids loved it.

    tip: strong magets are found in old hard disk’s…have fun!

    Reply
  19. Dave Bradbury
    Dave Bradbury says:

    About FALSE micrometeorites. Sadly many folk think they are finding micro/m.s. my own research has proven that very few Spherical look alikes are m/m.s .i suggest looking further at the following..fly ash from power stations. Smoke box ash from steam locos. Bag house dust from foundries. Welding rod spatter . Grindstone flash. My analysis has proven that micro/m.s do NOT contain uranium but 99.99 percent of the above industrial spherical particles do have uranium within the spherical matrix, going further I also did not believe what I found and that is NO nickel within the tiny spheres, here is the following elements found in the industrial air born debris or spheres. Pb, 240 ppm. Se, 75ppm. Zn, 400 ppm. As, 126 ppm. S, 1200 ppm. Uranium, 210 ppm. Na, 700 ppm. Ca, 800 ppm. F, 900 ppm. Finaly Fe, 3.8 percent. A sample taken and added to demin water gave a ph of 3.8.. Acid, the acid was determined as sulphuric via barium chloride, is it time to dispell this nonsense about anthpogenic spherical particles. If the truth is wanted then buy a meteorite and look for tiny particles that have adhered via magnetisum, you don’t require a big powerful m/scope to see the true m/m.s a mag x of 200 will show you the truth. I have 640 samples from most countries including the arctic,all show the same for False micrometeorites. Any comments are welcome. David Bradbury

    If you wish to contact myself then here I am, [email protected]. My name is David Bradbury, I live in Devon UK. I welcome any feedback. The nonsense MUST be corrected, it is not scientific.

    Reply
  20. Dave Bradbury
    Dave Bradbury says:

    About micro/ms. One very good method to I/D if they’ are or not is a simple chemical test for uranium, uranium is not found in M/Ms but it is found in most industrial coal burning spheres and many think these spheres are micro/ms..which are not, the test for uranium is very simple here it is.

    Take about 20 suspect spheres and crush to a fine powder add this to a test tube and add conc nitric acid, warm the contents to help dissolve, when cool in the same test tube add 2 mls of ether and shake taking care not to lose the solution sample, filter through a small paper filter a nd collect the filtrate in a small shallow vessel to evaporate you should get a tiny yellow deposit if uranium is present, when the residue is dry take a U/V lamp and examine the residue in the dark ,, if you get a green fluorescence then the sample contains uranium and it is NOT a micrometeorites, it is from coal burning, all coal contains uranium.

    Dave Bradbury. [email protected]

    Reply
  21. Dave Bradbury
    Dave Bradbury says:

    In the ether extraction, collect the ether phase NOT the acid phase, separate the two with a
    Small pippette and evaporate the ether WITHOUT a flame sorce, also beware that the acid phase should be separated from the ether because ether peroxides may form….and can explode so please take care.

    Dave Bradbury. UK

    Reply
  22. Paul R. Spencer
    Paul R. Spencer says:

    Magnetic iron oxide particles are common in soils. People who pan for gold are familiar with these particles as “black sand”. They can come from normal weathering of rocks along with abrasion in riverbeds. Many of these particles are small enough to be carried by the wind and deposited on roofs. Most of the magnetic particles collected in rainwater or sediments in rain gutters are probably of earth origin, and not meteorites.

    [email protected] retired physicist

    Reply
  23. Mike Wilson
    Mike Wilson says:

    My wife and I were in our living room watching the 11pm news when we heard a loud crash against the corner of our house about 5 feet from us that was really startling. This was on April 21st, 2012. We thought the outlet might have arced. We went outside and discovered a hole about the size of a silver dollar that went through the vinyl siding and the exterior insulation. Something definitely hit from outside as I have dug out the pieces of insulation and siding from the hole. I haven’t had a chance to investigate further but I will soon. The only possibilities we can think of are a part off a plane, a bullet or a meteorite. I plan on finding out what is in our wall in the next couple days the curiosity is killing us.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] you have access to a lot of microscopes and magnets, you can find micro-meteorites. 1) Cover a strong magnet with a plastic bag or saran wrap. 2) Find some open dirt and wave the […]

  2. […] A meteorite hit my house back in 2004… and many readers of this blog shared their discoveries. At no time was I ever suggesting that you endanger yourself by climbing up on your roof to drag a magnet through your gutters. But many of you did… and you found lots of cool stuff. Instead of climbing up on your roof, try this – The next time it rains, place a bucket under a drain spout in order to collect a good quantity of rain. Get rid of the leaves and roofing materials and then sift the remains through a bit of old window screen. What you’re after is so small that you’ll need a very strong magnet (neodymium magnet) to find them. Use this super-strong magnet to determine if any of the remaining particles contain iron. Those particles may be space dust, also known as micrometeorites. […]

  3. […] A Meteorite Hit My House! | Steve Spangler’s Blog […]

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