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Nininger Moment #10 How To Recognize Meteorites

Harvey H. Nininger published a number of papers during his career as both a professor at McPherson College and during his long and distinguished career of meteoritic research. According to the Published Papers of H.H. Nininger, he published a total of 162 papers on meteorites in a 47 year span of time. These papers often dealt with meteorite recovery, his ideas on meteorites in general and preservation of meteorites. Nininger certainly bridged the gap of science at the time when meteorites went largely unnoticed by the universities and colleges of the time. His papers were distributed over a large range of publications as the American Journal of Science to state and local natural science publications. Here is an edited version of one of his published papers.


Curator of Meteorite Dept.
Colorado Museum of Natural History

A survey during recent years has demonstrated that on the average less than one person in a thousand is able to recognize meteorites in their natural state. Hence this Leaflet. What Meteorites Are Not

1. Meteorites are not light porous rocks. They are often marked by shallow pits but aren’t porous.

2. They are not round like a ball. At least no round one is yet known.

3. They are not hollow.

4. Meteorites do not come to the ground in a burning condition. They do not set fires. They burn while in flight high in the air but generally cease burning about 5 to 20 miles up. A few have been know to frost over after landing from their natural cosmic coldness from space.

5. They do not look like cinders

What Meteorites are Like

1. Meteorites are much heavier than ordinary rocks.

2. They are generally irregular in shape. They are generally pitted more or less. The corners and edges are notably rounded or dulled from atmospheric flight. A few meteorites are conical in shape.

3. Meteorites are usually covered with a thin fusion crust due to the burning during flight in the atmosphere. This crust is nearly or quite black in most meteorites at the time of the fall. Later it becomes brown from rust if exposed to the weather.

4. Meteorites nearly always contain an alloy of nickel-iron. This metal may be in small grains or it may compose most of the meteorite. In either case it can be detected by grinding a corner of the suspected specimen (where it won’t detracted from the beauty of the specimen) against the edge of an emery wheel which will reveal bright white metal. Meteorites are important for research purposes and good prices are paid for them. Any specimen which conforms to the above description and meets the emery wheel test should be submitted for other more exhaustive tests at the hands of a specialist. The Nininger Laboratory makes such tests free of charge if only postage is sent for reply. Several pictures accompanied the article showing the surfaces of stones and two pictures showing the face of a cut stony meteorite and a cut and polished iron with a pattern etched in.

The Nininger Moments are articles or books written originally by Harvey Nininger and put into a consolidated form by Al Mitterling. Some of the items written in the moments might be old out dated material and the reader is advised to keep this in mind.

–AL Mitterling

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