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04 April 2010

Meteorite and meteoroid: New comprehensive definitions 5APR2010

Meteorite and meteoroid: New comprehensive definitions
Alan E. RUBIN 1* and Jeffrey N. GROSSMAN 2
1 Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095–1567, USA
2 U.S. Geological Survey, 954 National Center, Reston, Virginia 20192, USA
*Corresponding author. E-mail:
Copyright © 2010 The Meteoritical Society

Meteorites have traditionally been defined as solid objects that have fallen to Earth from space. This definition, however, is no longer adequate. In recent decades, man-made objects have fallen to Earth from space, meteorites have been identified on the Moon and Mars, and small interplanetary objects have impacted orbiting spacecraft. Taking these facts and other potential complications into consideration, we offer new comprehensive definitions of the terms "meteorite,""meteoroid," and their smaller counterparts:
A meteoroid is a 10-μm to 1-m-size natural solid object moving in interplanetary space. A micrometeoroid is a meteoroid 10 μm to 2 mm in size.
A meteorite is a natural, solid object larger than 10 μm in size, derived from a celestial body, that was transported by natural means from the body on which it formed to a region outside the dominant gravitational influence of that body and that later collided with a natural or artificial body larger than itself (even if it is the same body from which it was launched). Weathering and other secondary processes do not affect an object's status as a meteorite as long as something recognizable remains of its original minerals or structure. An object loses its status as a meteorite if it is incorporated into a larger rock that becomes a meteorite itself.
A micrometeorite is a meteorite between 10 μm and 2 mm in size. Meteorite–"a solid substance or body falling from the high regions of the atmosphere" (Craig 1849); "[a] mass of stone and iron that ha[s] been directly observed to have fallen down to the Earth's surface" (translated from Cohen 1894); "[a] solid bod[y] which came to the earth from space" (Farrington 1915); "A mass of solid matter, too small to be considered an asteroid; either traveling through space as an unattached unit, or having landed on the earth and still retaining its identity" (Nininger 1933); "[a meteoroid] which has reached the surface of the Earth without being vaporized" (1958 International Astronomical Union (IAU) definition, quoted by Millman 1961); "a solid body which has arrived on the Earth from outer space" (Mason 1962); "[a] solid bod[y] which reach[es] the Earth (or the Moon, Mars, etc.) from interplanetary space and [is] large enough to survive passage through the Earth's (or Mars', etc.) atmosphere" (Gomes and Keil 1980); "[a meteoroid] that survive[s] passage through the atmosphere and fall[s] to earth" (Burke 1986); "a recovered fragment of a meteoroid that has survived transit through the earth's atmosphere" (McSween 1987); "[a] solid bod[y] of extraterrestrial material that penetrate[s] the atmosphere and reach[es] the Earth's surface" (Krot et al. 2003).

(Received 05 May 2009; revision accepted 14 September 2009)

10.1111/j.1945-5100.2009.01009.x About DOI

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