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The Q? Blog

Meteorites Bring News from Outer Space

by Devin Reese -- Jun 9, 2015

Devin is the lead digital science writer for the Q?rius website. She writes and gathers media for the Smithsonian Science How? webcast series,...

This meteorite piece from an ancient asteroid contains valuable crystals and metals. Smithsonian image 6474.
This meteorite piece from an ancient asteroid contains valuable crystals and metals. Smithsonian image 6474.

Meteorites may conjure images of giant rocks smashing into towns. In fact, meteorites rarely hit people and regularly bring valuable materials to Earth from outer space. All of the iron we use on Earth today was delivered by meteorites. Gold and platinum even have meteorite origins. Meteorites have been hurtling to Earth since its formation nearly 4.6 billion years ago, way before humans evolved. Without meteorites, our planet would be a very different place in terms of minerals available for our use.

Meteorites are valuable not only as sources of minerals, but also because of the information they contain. A meteorite is a space-time messenger from our solar system, chipped off an asteroid or other orbiting body. It may hang around in orbit for thousands or millions of years before getting pitched to Earth. It carries a story of events and conditions in space that are otherwise difficult to study. 

Live webcast June 25th on Meteorites and Spacecraft MissionsUsing sophisticated technology to analyze the chemistry of meteorites, scientists find materials pointing back as far as the formation of our universe. These discoveries set the stage for planning spacecraft missions. Meteorites from Mars inspired a series of missions to explore the possibility of life on the “red planet.” 

Find out more about meteorites and the solar system by watching a “Smithsonian Science How” webcast titled Astrogeology: Meteorites and Spacecraft Missions on the Q?rius website. Meteoriticist Dr. Tim McCoy from the National Museum of Natural History will discuss and answer questions. Get teaching resources to support your webcast experience.