Want to know what it is? Here's how!
You've found a cool rock! It's big or maybe little, a strange color, or has an unexpected weight. What could it be? A gem, fossil, meteorite, or maybe just a chunk of iron slag?
We LOVE rocks, but not all geologist are experts on all types of rocks and our experts are not always on-site as they are often out in the field or teaching classes. As a result, we do not offer drop-in (unscheduled) identification for the general public.
So, please do NOT bring your rock into our Department office without first following
the advice below. Think it's a fossil or meteorite? Scroll to the bottom of this page.
If you have a large collection of rocks that you would like to give to the Department for us to use in our public outreach activities, please contact us. It's helpful if you will include photos. And thank you in advance for your generosity!
Collecting Rules & Regulations
Rock, mineral, and fossil collectors must adhere to rules and regulations established by owners or managing agencies of the lands on which they wish to collect.
Please read here for details.
For rock identification, you can:
STEP 1: Do some more in-depth research online. Some suggestions:
- Utah Geological Survey https://geology.utah.gov/
- Geology.com https://geology.com/rocks/
- Mining Matters Rock ID Guide: https://miningmatters.ca/school-programs/students/rock-and-mineral-identification-guides/rock-identification-guide
STEP 2: Reach out to local hobbyists as many are experts at identification and are often easier to meet with in-person. Some suggestions:
- Visit a local rock shop.
- Reach out to a local gem and mineral club or rock hunting club. Check out these website for a list of some options.
- Attend a gem and mineral show; the annual MCU Show takes place each October.
STEP 3: Attend our annual Public Open House, which is held each Fall; see our homepage for details. At the Open House, we have a rock identification station staffed by graduate students and/or faculty members.
STEP 4: Email your question to our team, including location of where and circumstances of how you found the rock. Also, please include several pictures of the item(s), including a clear close up and one with a ruler for scale (see in the pictures to the left). If you think it's a fossil or meteorite, please see additional instructions below.
NOTE: For the general public, we only offer non-certified, visual inspections; we do not do any formal chemical analysis, we will not give you an official document of identification, and we do not assess monetary value. If you are interested in a formal assessment, you will need to contact a commercial rock-testing laboratory.
Think it might be a fossil?
We encourage you to reach out to the Natural History Museum of Utah if you think you
have a fossil. To do so, visit. https://nhmu.utah.edu/fossil-identification
If you need additional help, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please do NOT go to the museum and leave your rock/fossil at the front desk. Also note that you must have a schedule appointment if you wish to meet with museum staff in person.
Think it might be a meteorite?
Meteorites are among the rarest materials that exist on our planet, so the chances of finding one is quite small. Before you contact us, please carefully read below.
Meteorites have several distinguishing characteristics that make them different from terrestrial (Earth) rocks. You can use this list to guide you through them. Usually, meteorites have all or most of these characteristics. (Source: Meteorite Museum - University of New Mexico)
Characteristics of Meteorites
Characteristics of Meteor-wrongs
From our experience, what you most likely found is either slag, magnetite, or hematite:
- Slag is a man-made metallic by-product, such as runoff from old smelters and castoff iron implements that have corroded over time. Like meteorites, these meteor-wrongs appear burned and melted on the surface, are heavy for their size, and are magnetic due to their high iron content; however, they often have small holes and cavities on their surface. These "vesicles" are created by escaping gases and are not found in meteorites.
- Magnetite and hematite are common iron-bearing minerals that are often mistaken for meteorites. Both minerals can occur as large masses with smooth surfaces that are heavier than typical rocks, but have some features which resemble meteorites. Magnetite is very magnetic (hence its name) and hematite is mildly magnetic. Use the streak test to distinguish these minerals.
Learn more about meteorites and meteor-wrongs at the websites below.
- Check out the Utah Geological Survey's Guide to Meteorite Identification to help answer some of your basic questions about whether or not you've found a meteorite before you contact us.
- Use the Self Test Checklist created by Washington University in St. Louis.
- See examples of what most meteorites look like prepared by our colleagues at Arizona State University.
- Check out other meteorite identification websites, such as http://www.meteorites.com.au/found.html.
If you still think it's a meteorite, feel free to contact us and include location of where and circumstances of how you found it. Also, include several pictures of the item, including a clear close up and one with a ruler for scale (see in the pictures to the left). Note that we will not give you an official document of identification and we do not assess monetary value. If you are interested in a formal assessment, you will need to contact a commercial rock-testing laboratory (for various reasons, we do not provide a list of such laboratories).