The incandescent blaze of a shooting star heralds the fall to earth of a small piece of rock from outer space. Known as a meteorite, this fragment from space holds fascinating information about how the solar system was formed. Only a few have been found in New Zealand; one made headlines in 2004 when it crashed through the roof of an Auckland home.
Full story by Simon Nathan
Main image: New Zealand meteorites
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Meteors and meteorites
A meteor is the bright trail of light seen in the night sky when a piece of rock from space enters the earth’s atmosphere. We also call it a shooting star.
When this rock has survived the entry into the earth’s atmosphere and landed on the ground, it is called a meteorite.
Why scientists study meteorites
Meteorites are the only objects we have from outer space, apart from moon rocks collected by astronauts. They help explain how the solar system began. In New Zealand they are very rare, so it is important they are kept for study.
What are meteorites made of?
There are two main types of meteorite. Stony meteorites are most common. They contain minerals similar to volcanic rocks on earth. Iron meteorites are bigger, they look rusty and are very heavy.
Falls and finds
Meteorites that have been seen landing on earth are called falls. Those which are discovered later are called finds. Each year thousands of meteorites land around the world, but only four or five are ever found.
Meteorites in New Zealand
Only two meteorites have been seen to fall in New Zealand:
- The Mokoia meteorite. On 26 November 1908 a meteor streaked across the daytime sky, startling people in Mokoia, near Wanganui, with a loud boom. Later, two pieces of meteorite were found in a small crater. These are now in the Whanganui Regional Museum.
- The Ellerslie meteorite. This crashed through the roof of a home in Ellerslie, Auckland, on 12 June 2004. It bounced off a couch and hit the ceiling, but no one was hurt.
In total, nine meteorites have been found in New Zealand after they fell to earth. Most were discovered by farmers.