Of the 57041 named meteorites that have been recovered on Earth, only 239 have been recovered from China. This is somewhat of an oddity as China has the 4th largest surface area of a country with about 9.6 million square km, after Russia (143 meteorites), Canada (64 meteorites) and the US (1789 meteorites) and we should expect, along with Canada and Russia, to have yielded many more samples as a function of their large surface size. The discrepancy in the collection statistics is perhaps caused by meteorite searchers and collectors typically originating from the US, challenges for access to certain regions; for example, large areas that are forested making search and recovery difficult, the lack of economic market for meteorites, or the possibility that although meteorites may have been identified by the fact that they are odd rocks, they may not have been formally submitted for classification to the professional Meteoritical Society nomenclature committee, and are thus not in the Met. Bull. database. However, times are changing and there is an emerging market for collectors in China – thus the interest in recovering meteorites in China for both sale and scientific analysis is rapidly increasing.
These communities were brought together at the China Meteorite meeting hosted by Duke Kunshan University (an overseas branch of the US Duke university campus) to discuss Chinese meteorite strewn fields, search strategies, collections, museums and public engagement organisations, and scientific analysis and discovery. Along with an emerging market comes many issues with people selling fake meteorites (meteorwrongs) and how to prevent the proliferation of trading fake samples was a major topic of conversation amongst the Chinese meteorite collector and seller communities. Several talks discussed meteorite search expeditions to the northern Chinese deserts, which provide ideal collection grounds (dry, little vegetation, old surfaces, little surface rock, pale coloured surface), although have challenging accessibility (there were lots of photos of crashed cars, cars stuck in sand, snow and ice in winter months and military non-entry zones – give me Antarctica any day!).
Other talks discussed the criteria for recognising a meteorite from normal rocks, and specific meteorite fall events and the historical significance of these stones to the local communities (one even mentioned a Ming dynasty event in Qingyang that apparently caused loss of life…). There was also fantastic public exhibition of meteorites, showing off a large number of different varieties collected both inside and outside of China, including lunar meteorites, martian and a myriad of iron and chondritic varieties.
My colleague Dr Shijie Li from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute for Geochemistry in Guiyang, who has been hosting my visit to China (see my previous post), has been involved in some of the search efforts in the Gobi desert (central north close to Mongolia) and Xinjiang desert region (western northern autonomous region) including the Lop Nor and Tuya desert areas. The group are also involved with studying the recovered samples (see photo of Xiaojia Zeng with some of his great sample maps), which are mostly chondritic in compositions and originate from primitive asteroid parent bodies.
When I was in Guiyang we went to see the collection of a private meteorite hunter who has found some amazing large meteorites from the Xinjiang region. She has opened a shop in Guiyang that also is an education center for children and teachers to come and learn about meteorites (there is a great table depicting the desert regions where the expeditions take place), and if you are in the area I thoroughly recommend a visit as they have many impressive stones on show that are a good introduction to Chinese meteorites.
Some highlighted Chinese meteorites are outlined below:
Jilin – an H5 class chondrite that fell on the 8th March 1976, and where the largest meteorite fragment (the imaginatively titled ‘number 1’ sample) that is apx. 1 m in width formed an impact pit crater. Smaller fragments (numbers 2, 3, 4 etc. you get the idea…) were found scattered across a strewn field stretching across three counties. There is now an impressive museum in Jilin celebrating the event, and hosting many of the collected stones.
Tuya meteorite – a large strewnfield with over 160 kg of samples recovered mostly paired L chondrites The individual stones found all have different numbers in the Met. Bull. meteorite classification database, but many may actually be a single shower event – implying that there are less Chinese meteorites than are actually catalogued.
Shaxi (Altatage mountain) – impact melted chondritic meteorites that have a very odd exterior texture (they look very similar to polished wind polished desert rocks, rather than having the typical thumbprints of a chondritic stone) and are very well consolidated. In a search mission for these samples by Shijie and colleagues, one was found by car headlights during the drive to the search zone!
Alati – iron meteorite find. See the story about the discovery of an enormous 25 tonne stone here.
Nanten meteorite – a witnessed iron meteorite fall in ~1516
Hraschina meteorite– another iron meteorite fall in 1751
In the UK if you think you have found a meteorite we do not offer meteorite identification services. First of all read this advice http://meteorites.wustl.edu/check-list.htm and http://meteorites.wustl.edu/index.htm . And then if you would like to check both Manchester Museum and the Natural History Museum in London both offer a geological ‘inquiry service’ you can use.