Updated: Mar 4, 2022
Join us on a journey from the sandy desert floor of Arizona, to the deep, complex corners of the geological web.
If you follow us on TikTok @MobileMushrooms then you already know about the geological saga that has been the past 3 days. But if you don’t know, let me catch you up... As it turns out, this is a subject that interests lots of people, and there is a need for a better general understanding of what exactly makes a meteorite, a meteorite.
TLDR - Did I find a meteorite? No. Did I learn how to recognize a meteorite? I sure as heck hope so because y’all I’m exhausted. Click on the button below to. watch our Youtube video about the experience:
So... to save everyone some extensive reading and hopefully the rollercoaster of emotion * Am I RICH?!..No.. Wait, YES! No... Wait no I don’t think so…* I’ve used my experience to create a SIMPLE & DIGESTIBLE Guide to help if you ever find yourself asking “Is this trash? Or is this a space artifact?”
As we’ve traveled west the past few weeks my naturalist eye has turned from mushrooms to rocks with the change in climate and environment. Cut to Sunday February 20th and we’re in Southern Arizona at a disc golf course. Ben and Mabel are off shooting well under par and making friends while I scour the desert floor and walk alone off into the brush. I ended up at what looked like the site of a fire but soon realized the black debris on the ground was solid rather than charred wood. I studied the debris, took some macro photos and did some light google searching from the field to start the identification process. Some results suggested the meteorites, so I marked the spot and grabbed some specimens for the road.
*The Irony here is that while obsessing over the identification of these rocks I almost failed to notice my first-ever sighting of desert mushrooms just inches away from my face as I was carefully crouching under the thorny limbs of a mesquite tree...*
These mushrooms are called Battarrea Phalloides, colloquially known as the "Desert Stalked Puffball," and unlike most mushrooms these are known to grow in very hot and dry environments (obviously, but how cool! Mushrooms are so dynamic!)
Anyway, back to the story:
That night I tested the rocks with some magnets, spent hours on extensive research. As I drudged through article after article without finding any definitive yes or no, I became more determined to have an answer. I reached out to an organization in California that specializes in identifying suspected meteorites and looked for local rock shops and resources in Arizona to explore the next day.
*Note that most websites, organizations, and even educational departments display a disclaimer stating "we do not identify suspected meteorites," due to the mass of samples, images, and requests they receive.* This helped me understand the scale of this predicament and how there is a need for more comprehensive information available to the public that may not be familiar with geological terms or principals so that we can develop a general understanding of meteorites versus lookalikes and prevent these common misconceptions.
Monday February 21st I hit the road and headed north up to Tucson. As luck would have it most of the rock shops were closed due to President’s Day and the fact that the annual Rock and Gem show had just ended in town.
I was able to make it over to Kent’s Tools (which I'd already planned to visit to grab some supplies for my upcoming rockhounding adventure I’m planning in Wiley’s Well next month) and asked Kent and the employees Megan and Melanie about the specimen I’d brought in.
To be thorough, we tested it with a rare earth magnet they had in stock and confirmed it had magnetic properties. They gave me the info for the ‘local meteorite expert’ Suzanne and her rock shop Raining Rocks but unfortunately her store was closed and I couldn't get a hold of her while I was in town.
My next efforts led me to the Geological Survey Agency of Arizona. Mind you, in my research the day before I found their website had the classic disclaimer: “we do not identify suspected meteorites,” (along with the Geological department at the University of Arizona and practically every other geological resource in the area). Despite the disclaimer, I was at a loss. I phoned the agency and asked if they could simply help me identify if these were “slag” or “tektites” *see information below.
I suppose with the use of some *you-have-at-least-done-your-research* lingo, I had my foot in the door. Sweet sweet Mike Conway was generous enough to provide me an email address to send some images of the specimens and descriptions of the site.
Unfortunately his expertise confirmed they were in fact ‘slag’ or, in layman’s terms, ‘trash.’
Ahh yes, okay.... But, as with all my nature-classification research, I wanted to cross-reference and be extremely thorough in my conclusions. After all, not all these specimens looked the same. In fact, a reason why it was so hard to get a straight answer up to this point was because the physical characteristics varied extensively between each rock. Not to mention I had just started reading about Tektites, a sort of 'meteorite-adjacent' object made up of earth material. According to Australia Museum website:
"Tektites are small, pebble-like glassy objects of Earth material that have been melted by meteorite impact, splashed up into our atmosphere, and fallen to Earth again under gravity."
So knowing some of the specimens featured glassy characteristics without vesicles, I threw out a hail Mary...
I decided to post a series of images showing a range of the different specimens in a Facebook group I had requested to join the day before. Thankfully, this group was made specifically for identifying meteorites, where experts and experienced meteorite-hounds take time out their day to provide answers and insights.
‘Ping!’ ‘Ping!’ The results were in. Experts on the Facebook page confirmed. “Meteor-wongs” they said… “Earth Rocks” they said… and lastly, “Looks Volcanic”… and there you have it. But, what a journey!