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What Is a Meteorite?

Shooting stars, or meteors, are bits of rocky material falling through Earth's atmosphere where they are heated by friction. Called meteoroids as they hurtle through space, they only become meteors for the few seconds they streak across the sky and create glowing trails. Sometimes the number of these streaks increase dramatically—these events are termed meteor showers.

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It takes a meteorite only 4-10 seconds to hit the ground.

Meteorites in North Dakota

jamestown meteorite
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Iron Meteorite
Stutsman County, ND

Jamestown Meteorite

In 1885, a railroad worker found an iron meteorite weighing 9 pounds (4kg) in a shallow hole. O.W. Huntington purchased it, cut it into several pieces, and sold them to various museums. The Jamestown Meteorite contains approximately 7.5% nickel, making it relatively malleable. Huntington noted that it could easily be bent back and forth by hand. “Moreover,” he said, “the iron was so malleable that it could be readily rolled out into thin ribbon in the cold.”

niagara meteorite
Iron Meteorite
Grand Forks County, ND

Niagara Meteorite

The Niagara Meteorite was found in 1879 by F. Talbot, who was collecting rocks on his father’s farm. The Ward’s Natural Science Company purchased the specimen from the family and lent it to museums around the world. The specimen appears to have been a complete meteorite but had undergone surface corrosion prior to its discovery.
The meteorite was 115g and was reported to be very oxidized, brownish-black in color, and showed no trace of the original fusion crust.

richardton meteorite
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Stony Meteorite
Stark County, ND

Richardton Meteorite

The Richardton Meteorite is considered to be the best-documented meteorite to fall in North Dakota. Its descent in 1918 was reportedly seen by numerous local farmers as well as people in Dickinson, Hettinger, Mandan, and Lemmon, South Dakota. The meteorite would have been visible over approximately 400 square miles. When it entered into the atmosphere it caused an intense explosion that was heard over an area of approximately 250 square miles.
The 198-lb meteorite exploded in the sky, distributing fragments between the towns of Richardton and Mott.

freda meteorite
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Iron Meteorite
Grant County, ND

Freda Meteorite

The Freda Meteorite was discovered in 1919 approximately two miles southwest of Freda, ND. The meteorite was exposed when Henry G. Meyers was plowing his field. It was estimated that the meteorite had fallen 50-500 years before its discovery, based on the amount of weathering.

New Leipzig meteorite
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Iron Meteorite
Grant County, ND

New Leipzig Meteorite

The New Leipzig Meteorite was discovered on the farm of Daniel Buckwitz Jr. in 1936.
It weighed approximately 44 lbs.

bowesmont meteorite
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Stony Meteorite
Pembina County, ND

Bowesmont Meteorites

The Stony Meteorite was the first of what would be five meteorites discovered near Bowesmont. The first stony meteorite, found in 1962, weighed approximately 5 lbs. Another 3 lb. meteorite was discovered in 1972, followed by the discovery of another three specimens over the years.
Image: Don Edwards/Encyclopedia of Meteorites

Williston meteorite
Iron Meteorite
McKenzie County, ND

Williston Meteorite

The Williston Meteorite was discovered ten miles south of Williston in 1962.

glasston meteorite
Stony Meteorite
Pembina County, ND

Glasston Meteorite

The Glasston Meteorite was discovered by Dean A. Young in 1962.

drayton meteorite
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Stony Meteorite
Pembina County, ND

Drayton Meteorite

The Drayton Meteorite wa sdiscovered in the 1990s by Phil Raney. Raney was the nephew of Sandy McDonald, discoverer of the Bowesmont Meteorite. The Drayton stony meteorite was approximately 5 lbs and found between the towns of Bowesmont and Drayton. The chemical makeup of the meteorite was compared to the Bosemont, and it was found they were different meteorites.

colgate meteorite
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Chondrite Meteorite
Steele County, ND

Colgate Meteorite

Sometimes called the Colgate Chondrite, it is the largest meteorite ever found in ND. This meteorite weighs 84 lbs and is estimated to be about 4.6 billion years old. Chondrites are physically and chemically the most primitive meteorites in the solar system.
Image: University of North Dakota.

There are two impact craters in North Dakota.

Impact Craters in North Dakota

newporte crater arial location
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Location: N 48° 58’ W 101° 58’
Renville County, ND

Newporte Crater

Less than 500 million years old, the Newporte Crater was discovered by the Shell Oil Company in 1977. Research on the site indicated that the presence of shocked quartz and impact breccias (breccias are rocks comprising angular fragments from different types of rocks) further verified that it was indeed an impact structure. The crater is buried under nearly 2 miles of material.

It is estimated that the meteorite that made the crater was approximately 2 miles in diameter and hit the surface with 12 gigapascals or approximately 26 billion pounds of force. The diameter is 1.9 miles/3.2km.

red wing crater
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Location: N 47° 36’ W 103° 33’
McKenzie County, ND

Red Wing Crater

Less than 200 million years old, the Red Wing Crater was discovered by the True Oil Company in 1972. The crater is over 5 miles wide and buried under 1.2 miles of material. Research on the site indicated the presence of shocked quartz and shatter cones.

It is estimated that the meteorite was approximately 5.25 miles/8.4km in diameter.

Questions. The Kinds that are frequently asked.

Get answers to FAQs about ND Meteorites

What is the differece between an Asteroid, Meteoroid, Meteor, and Meteorite?

Asteroid Large chunks of rocks that orbit the sun but are too small to be called planets. Most are pitted or cratered and irregularly shaped. 99.8% of meteors come from asteroids. The other .2% of meteorites come from Mars or our Moon.

Meteoroid Chunks of rock hurtling through space.

Meteor Meteoroids that hit Earth’s atmosphere.
We sometimes see them for the few seconds as they streak across the night sky and create glowing trails.

Meteorites Meteors that survive the harsh journey through the atmosphere and hit the ground.

Meteorites are classified by their composition and texure, just like any other rock. There are four primary meteorite classifications:

  • Chondrites. The most abundant meteories. Over 80% of meteorties belong to this group. Chondrules, which give Chondrites their name, are small, spherical masses formed in the solar nebula when the solar system was new.

  • Achondrites. These account for fewer than 5% of meteorites. They lack chondrules.

  • Stony Iron. Mixture of iron and stony material.

  • Iron. Mostly iron and nickel.

If you think you have a rock that might be a meteorite, you may want to bring it to the North Dakota Geological Survey office in Bismarck or the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at the University of North Dakota.

You can perform some simple checks without any lab equipment. Most meteorites contain some metal and will easily attact a magnet. They are also dense, so they feel heavier than a usual rock. If you can see the interior of the rock, the most common stony meteorites contain round grains which give them a very unique appearance.