Here's Where Meteorites End Up When They Hit Earth

Some people might tell you that once they hit Earth, meteorites go to live on a farm with other meteorites, where they can run through the fields together and chase rabbits. Some people would be wrong.

A meteorite is defined by geography. As NASA tells us, they start as a meteoroid, defined as "objects in space that range in size from dust grains to small asteroids" — basically, "space rocks." Once one of these objects hits a planet's atmosphere — Earth's; maybe that of Mars — they often burn up, what we on the ground sometimes call "shooting stars." Sometimes a bit of one of these meteors survives the trip to the planet's surface and lands, and thereafter is known as a meteorite.

Meteorites themselves tend to fall into three categories, depending on their composition, according to Arizona State University's Center for Meteorite Studies: stony, stony-iron, and iron. Smithsonian Magazine tells us that at least one of the daggers in King Tut's tomb was created using iron from a meteorite, composed of iron, nickel, and cobalt. Researchers found that it didn't rust and didn't age. Not to mention "the obvious cool factor of owning a dagger made from a material from space."

Do not try to catch a falling star and put it in your pocket

Today, while a meteorite dagger has unlimited possibilities for storytelling (Rick O'Connell probably could have used one in The Mummy), many of the meteorites that are found after landing find a place at ASU. The Center for Meteorite Studies, now directed by Laurence Garvie, was established in 1961 and today is recognized as the world's preeminent institution for the study, preservation, and storage of meteorites. The Center's collection numbers more than 40,000 individual specimens from 2,000 meteorite falls and finds, literally from around the globe.

Joni Mitchell sang that "We are stardust," and it's literally stardust that provides research opportunities at the Center. Examining meteorites, in all their spectacular variety and size, gives important clues to our understanding of the solar system — its age, its evolution, and even the history of life itself. After all, it's commonly believed that a meteorite sparked the mass extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Not only that, says the Center, "Meteorites may have brought to Earth the components necessary for life – organic compounds such as carboxylic acids, complex amino acids, aliphatic amines, acetic acid and formic acid can be transported great distances inside space rocks." No question: meteorites, large and small, can "influence the course of life on our planet." And make really cool daggers, too.