© David A. Kring
World Wide Web Edition
Scientists recently discovered that meteorites have been preserved and concentrated in certain regions of Antarctica. Consequently, within the last 20 years, Japanese and American teams of scientists have collected over 15,000 meteorite specimens from Antarctica, increasing the number of samples in our collections dramatically. (Added note: As of 2012, the number of meteorites recovered from Antarctica had risen to over 18,000. Moreover, sample recovery in hot desert locations has exploded. As of the spring of 2014, the total number of formally named meteorites exceeded 48,000.)
Until the work in Antarctica began, the total number of known meteorites was ~2,600. Of these, only about one-third were observed to fall. Most meteorites are classified as finds and were discovered serendipitously by farmers, shepherds, ranchers, hikers, and so on. In some cases, however, they were found by diligent meteorite hunters. A few meteorites have also been found in fossiliferous limestones and two were found in rocks collected from the Moon by Apollo astronauts.
Although 93% of the meteorites observed to fall are chondrites and achondrites, only 56% of the meteorites that are found serendipitously are of these same types. Iron meteorites are much more common among the meteorite finds, because they are so unlike most terrestrial rocks and because stony meteorites are highly susceptible to weathering on the surface of the Earth.
While hunting for meteorites, use the properties described above and the questions below to help identify good candidate specimens. For example, in the case of iron meteorites, look for dense rocks with brown fusion crusts which are also magnetic and have a metallic silver interior.
If you find a possible meteorite, try to avoid handling the stone. In contrast to some myths, you will not be harmed by touching a meteorite, but you may inadvertently contaminate the sample with salts and oils from your hands. If possible, place the stone in a clean (and dry) plastic bag. Bring the sample to a credible laboratory as soon as possible.