Posted on May 7, 2018

Meteors are small pieces of space debris that fall down on the Earth every day. The vast majority of meteors burn up high in the atmosphere, but those few that reach the ground intact are called meteorites.

For this project, I wanted to get a sense of where on the surface of the Earth these meteorites have been found most often. I created an R shiny app using the leaflet package for drawing maps. The dataset I used comes from, originally taken from NASA. This dataset contains name, location, date, and mass information for about 50,000 meteorites that have been found on the ground so far, including about 1000 that have been seen by a person while falling.

To visualize the location of the meteorites, I created a map plotting the positions of all the meteorites in the dataset. The map shows each meteorite as a small circle, with the circle's size proportional to the mass of the meteorite. Zooming in past a certain point shows individual pieces for those meteorites of which many different pieces were found. The map can be filtered by the type of meteorite, the year it was found, and whether it was seen while falling or just found on the ground. (A summary detailing the different classes of meteorites can be found here.)  Hovering the mouse over a circle shows some of the information on that meteorite.

In addition, I added a histogram tab that shows the count of meteorites by the year they were found, colored by class.  The histogram can also be filtered by class, year, and fall status.  The third tab shows a scrollable table of the filtered data.

Some insights about the data that I gained during the course of this project:

  • The distribution of the meteorites that were seen falling largely mirrors a population density map.  This makes sense since if there are more people living in an area, it is more likely that someone will see a falling meteorite.
  • However, the distribution of the meteorites that were found on the ground is highest in desert areas.  Presumably, this is because it is much easier to spot a meteorite on the ground if there is no obscuring vegetation.
  • The most common types of meteorite are chondrites (which are made of stone).  Iron meteorites are less common but tend to have higher masses.

In all, this project offered me an insightful look into the distribution of meteorites all over the world.  In the future, the data might be used by meteorite hunters or researchers to show where they are more likely to find certain types of meteorites.

Shiny App Link

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