The cosmic carrot, or possibly parsley root, is a tan-toned cryptocrystalline micrometeorite droplet discovered by Daniel Thommen and photographed for Project Stardust by Jan Braly Kihle. NMM 3162 is a remarkable tan-toned particle with a rare shape that was forged by extreme speed and temperature.
When a micrometeoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed greater than 3000 m/s, this hypervelocity has a dramatic effect on the molten material of the micrometeoroid. If it also has a rapid spin perpendicular to the direction of movement, a droplet or tail may form. It is during the frictional flash heating when the G-forces elongate the rock into a dumbbell shape. At times the force is so extreme that the droplet snaps in the middle, resulting in a pair of droplets.
During the subsequent deceleration and cooling, crystallization is triggered by the dense metal in the thick end. Even without spin, the micrometeoroid may possibly form a tail due to elemental differentiation and inertia during atmospheric deceleration.
The cosmic carrot has to be one of our favorites and we thank Daniel Thommen for allowing us to publish this wonderful image.
For fun, here are some other tails and droplets that we’ve discovered and photographed over the years. Enjoy!
Jon Larsen & Jan Braly Kihle