Go to content Go to menu




Murnpeowie meteorite, an iron meteorite with regmaglypts resembling thumbprints (Australia, 1910)

A meteorite is a portion of a meteoroid or asteroid that survives its passage through the atmosphere and hits the ground without being destroyed.[67] Meteorites are sometimes, but not always, found in association with hypervelocity impact craters; during energetic collisions, the entire impactor may be vaporized, leaving no meteorites. Geologists use the term, "bolide", in a different sense from astronomers to indicate a very large impactor. For example, the USGS uses the term to mean a generic large crater-forming projectile in a manner "to imply that we do not know the precise nature of the impacting body ... whether it is a rocky or metallic asteroid, or an icy comet for example".[68]

Meteoroids also hit other bodies in the solar system. On such stony bodies as the Moon or Mars that have little or no atmosphere, they leave enduring craters.

Frequency of impactsEdit

The diameter of the largest impactor to hit Earth on any given day is likely to be about 40 centimeters (16 inches), in a given year about 4 meters, and in a given century about 20 meters. These statistics are obtained by the following:

Over at least the range from 5 centimeters (2.0 inches) to roughly 300 meters (980 feet), the rate at which Earth receives meteors obeys a power-law distribution as follows:

N(>D) = 37 D^{-2.7}\

where N (>D) is the expected number of objects larger than a diameter of D meters to hit Earth in a year.[69] This is based on observations of bright meteors seen from the ground and space, combined with surveys of near-Earth asteroids. Above 300 meters in diameter, the predicted rate is somewhat higher, with a two-kilometer asteroid (one million-megaton TNT equivalent) every couple of million years — about 10 times as often as the power-law extrapolation would predict.

Impact cratersEdit

Meteoroid collisions with solid Solar System objects, including the Moon, MercuryCallistoGanymede and most small moons and asteroids, create impact craters, which are the dominant geographic features of many of those objects. On other planets and moons with active surface geological processes, such as Earth, VenusMarsEuropaIo and Titan, visible impact craters may become eroded, buried or transformed by tectonics over time. In early literature, before the significance of impact cratering was widely recognised, the terms cryptoexplosion or cryptovolcanic structure were often used to describe what are now recognised as impact-related features on Earth.[70] Molten terrestrial material ejected from a meteorite impact crater can cool and solidify into an object known as a tektite. These are often mistaken for meteorites.

Gallery of meteoritesEdit