New Mexico Meteorites
Meteorites fall randomly all over the earth, but because people only live on a small part of the Earth's surface, not many fall in people's backyards. Meteorites seen to fall to the Earth, called falls, only occur in areas where people live and can see them. Meteorites that are found after they fall, sometimes years later, are called finds, and it takes a sharp eye to find them in most places because they usually look like rocks on the ground.
There are some places on Earth that preserve all the meteorites that fell there for thousands or millions of years. These places have geologic processes that trap meteorites, are very dry, so that the meteorites don't erode and rust, and have other processes that leave meteorite concentrations behind. These conditions are met in the sand dunes of the Sahara and the glaciers of Antarctica. When the dunes shift or the glaciers evaporate, they leave behind hundreds of meteorites. About 85% of all the meteorites in the world's collections come from these hot and cold deserts.
New Mexico is a good place to find meteorites because much of it is desert. Only a handful of meteorites have been seen to fall in New Mexico, but hundreds have been found. Most come from the dry lake beds and blowout regions of Roosevelt County, in the east-central part of New Mexico. Some meteorites are associated with strewnfields (when the meteorite breaks up into many pieces on the ground), like Portales Valley.
We do not have specific information on where meteorites are or are likely to be in New Mexico. If you want to start searching, we recommend looking through the back issues of Meteorite Magazine to see what other people have done. Here are some articles you might be able to use to start with:
- Wilson, I. (1999) The Search for Meteorites in Roosevelt County. Meteorite, Vol. 5, p. 18-20.
- Notkin, G. (2001) Legend of Glorieta Mountain. Meteorite, Vol. 7, p. 24-27.
- Mikouchi, T.; Welten, K. C.; Buchanan, P. C.; Caffee, M. W.; Hutchison, R.; Hutchison, M.; Zolensky, M. E. (2000) Meteorite Search in the Deflation Basins in Lea County, New Mexico and Winkler County, Texas, USA: Discovery of Lea County 003 (H4). 31st Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, Houston, Texas, abstract no. 1987.
- McHone, J. F.; Killgore, M.; Killgore, E. (1999) Portales Valley, New Mexico Fall of 13 June 1998: Anomalous Fragment Distribution and Composition. 30th Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, Houston, TX, abstract no. 1964.
- Zolensky, M. E.; Wells, G. L.; Rendell, H. M. (1990) The accumulation rate of meteorite falls at the earth's surface - The view from Roosevelt County, New Mexico. Meteoritics, vol. 25, p. 11-17.
- Huss, G. I.; Wilson, I. E. (1974) A Census of the Meteorites of Roosevelt County, New Mexico. Meteoritics, volume 8, number 3, page 287.
If you go hunting for meteorites...
Check out our web page on How to Identify a Meteorite!
In the United States, meteorites are the property of the person upon whose land they are found. If a meteorite is found on federal lands, then government officials consider it to belong to the government and, under an interpretation of the 1906 "Antiquities Act," meteorites found on federal lands belong to the Smithsonian Institution. National parks and public lands generally prohibit removal of rocks from them. So, please know whose land you are on before picking up suspect rocks.
Meteorites are intrinsically valuable as scientific specimens, because they are our only samples of other bodies in the solar system. As a service to science, new meteorites must have 20 grams or 20% of their mass (whichever is smaller) retained in a scientific institution before they can be sold or traded. Unless you find an incredibly rare meteorite, its value probably won't make you rich. Do a Google search for meteorite dealers to find many meteorite dealers and get a sense of what current prices are.