consist overwhelmingly of nickel
. The metal taken from these meteorites is known as meteoric iron
and was one of the earliest sources of usable iron available to man.
While they are fairly rare compared to the stony meteorites
, comprising about 5.7% of witnessed falls, they have historically been heavily over-represented in meteorite
collections. This is due to several factors:
- They are easily recognized as unusual even by laymen, as opposed to stony meteorites. Modern-day searches for meteorites in deserts and Antarctica yield a much more representative sample of meteorites overall.
- They are much more resistant to weathering.
- They are much more likely to survive atmospheric entry, and are more resistant to the resulting ablation. Hence they are more likely to be found as large pieces.
In fact, Iron meteorites account for almost 90% of the mass of all known meteorites, about 500 tons. All the largest known meteorites are of this type , including the largest -- the Hoba meteorite.
Iron meteorites have been linked to M-type asteroids
since both types of objects have similar spectral characteristics in the visible and near-infrared wavelength regions. Iron meteorites are thought to be the fragments of the cores of larger ancient asteroids
that have been shattered by impacts. The IIE chemical class
may be a notable exception, in that they probably originate from the crust of S-type asteroid 6 Hebe
Chemical and isotope analysis indicates that at least about 50 distinct parent bodies were involved. This implies that there were once at least this many large, differentiated, asteroids in the asteroid belt - many more than today.
The overwhelming bulk of these meteorites consists of the alloys kamacite
. Minor minerals, when occurring, often form rounded nodules of troilite
, surrounded by schreibersite
The iron nickel alloy was used by several cultures for the manufacturing of tools and weapons. For example the Inuit
used parts of the Cape York meteorite
Two classifications are in use.
The older Structural classification is based on the relative abundance of nickel to iron, which can be assessed from the appearance of polished cross-sections that have been etched with acid.
The categories are:
The Octahedrites can be further divided up on the basis of the properties of their Widmanstätten patterns.
A newer Chemical classification based on the proportions of trace elements separates the iron meteorites into classes corresponding to distinct asteroid parent bodies :