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Micrometeorites

Size really does matter… for micrometeorites.

Micrometeorites are small particles of cosmic dust that land on the Earth’s surface. Until 2015, when yours truly, Jon Larsen, discovered the world’s first urban micrometeorite, it was generally accepted that these tiny specks of stardust could only be found in extremely clean and remote areas. For decades, scientists studied micrometeorites from Antarctica and made many remarkable discoveries. In this article I am going to discuss the size and mass distributions of micrometeorites and explain why they are so limited.

The information I impart in this article is based on my personal findings and data from academic sources. In addition to the papers referenced below, I also draw from a lecture given by Dr. Matthew Genge in February 2015 and Dr. Michel Maurette’s legendary book, “Micrometeorites and the Mysteries of Our Origins”. I am deeply grateful for their support over the years and encourage you to explore their publications.

Now, let’s get to it!

How big are micrometeorites?

Most micrometeorites have a size of approximately 300 microns (µm) or 0.3 mm. However, there are both smaller and larger ones.

On one end of the spectrum are particles measuring under 50 µm (0.05 mm) — approximately the thickness of a human hair! As you might imagine, these micrometeorites are extremely difficult to identify under a light microscope. In fact, their delicate features and surface characteristics are difficult to analyze even with powerful technology. Consequently, in my own collection, I concentrate on spherules larger than 150 µm (0.15 mm).

At the other end of the spectrum, a micrometeorite larger than 500 µm (0.5 mm) is considered to be a giant, and when it approaches twice that size, a supergiant. Though I have collected thousands of micrometeorites, I have only collected a handful of giants and supergiants, as both are exceptionally rare.

Note: All of the supergiants I have found are included in the full version of the collage featured in this post!

Perhaps you may be wondering, “Why are supergiants so rare?”

The Mysterious Size Gap

The illustration below is from my book, “In Search of Stardust”, and depicts the total cosmic influx (amount of cosmic dust entering into the Earth’s atmosphere) vs the size of meteoritic material.

There is a distinct peak between 0.2-0.4 mm, then the mass distribution quickly decreases to zero between 2-10 mm. Since particles measuring less than 10 mm (1 cm) are considered micrometeorites, it is clear that these tiny particles make up the vast majority of meteoritic mass that comes to Earth. But, why?

With larger mass and kinetic energy, most particles measuring between 2-10 mm (0.2-1 cm) burn up in the atmosphere, leaving behind only nano-sized meteoritic smoke particles. Objects measuring around 1 cm and upwards to a few meters are considered meteorites, while larger objects, which are thankfully exceptionally rare, are asteroids.

A graphic depicting the size distribution of cosmic influx by Project Stardust Jon Larsen depicting specifically micrometeorites meteorites and asteroids
This graphic depicts the size distribution of cosmic influx. © Project Stardust, 2022.

How much stardust is there really?

So, now that we’ve discussed the size gap, one critical piece remains: How much stardust falls to Earth each day?

The exact mass of the cosmic influx is not known, but according to a recent publication by Rojas et al. (2021), the total amount of micrometeorites per year is at least one thousand times larger than meteorites. This adds up to somewhere between 5000—36000 metric tons of cosmic dust per year, or somewhere between 14—100 tons per day. 

According to Genge (2008) the rule of thumb for micrometeorites is approximately one object with a diameter of 0.1 mm per square meter per year. However, the average cosmic spherule has a diameter of approximately 0.3 mm and may contain up to 27 times more mass than one at 0.1 mm. Consequently, in my hunt for micrometeorites in populated areas, on a roof of 50 square meters, I expect to find two, and not fifty cosmic spherules per year.

If you have questions about this or how to find your own stardust please leave me a comment on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. If you’d like to hang stardust photos on your wall, please join the Project Stardust VIP List

Yours truly,

Jon Larsen

P.S. Here’s the full version of the collage! Enjoy!

A collage of Project Stardust micrometeorites showing their relative size by Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle
This spectacular collage of micrometeorites shows their relative size. © Project Stardust, 2022.

References

Genge, M. J. (2007). Micrometeorites and Their Implications for Meteors. Earth, Moon, and Planets, 102(1-4), 525–535. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11038-007-9185-z

Rojas, J., Duprat, J., Engrand, C., Dartois, E., Delauche, L., Godard, M., Gounelle, M., Carrillo-Sánchez, J. D., Pokorný, P., & Plane, J. M. C. (2021). The micrometeorite flux at Dome C (Antarctica), monitoring the accretion of extraterrestrial dust on Earth. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 560(116794), 116794. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2021.116794

Just in case you're new here!

Together we have amassed the world's most expansive collection of micrometeorites and we can't wait to share it with you.

Whether you're an expert in the field, an art collector with an appetite for treasures from space, or a budding stardust enthusiast, we hope you'll enjoy learning about our work.

Connect with us on social media to share the excitement of seeing new micrometeorites for the first time!

Jon Larsen & Jan Braly Kihle

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WINTER 2022 COLLECTION

Meet this season's micrometeorites

This season's collection features a variety of stunning micrometeorites. From mountainous cryptocrystalline turtlebacks and bewitching glass spherules to ultra rare giants. Available for a limited time only.

NMM 1448: V-TYPE

NMM 1448:  V-TYPE

Glass / Vitreous

Glass or vitreous type (V-type) micrometeorites each a temperature of up to 2000°C (3600°F) as they descend through the atmosphere..

These delicate, translucent spherules are difficult to find due to their lack of magnetism, since most of their metals evaporated during descent. 

NMM 1359:  CC-TYPE

Crypto-crystalline

Cryptocrystalline (CC-type) micrometeorites are composed of glassy particles with fine-grained crystallites that are too small to recognize as individual grains.

Many of these magnificent spherules feature metal beads and aerodynamic forms, while others have a "turtleback" shape with humps distributed evenly around the spherule.

NMM 1359:  CC-TYPE

NMM 500:  BO-TYPE

Barred Olivine

Barred olivine (BO-type) spherules are coarse-grained  micrometeorites made of the magnesium variety of the mineral olivine, forsterite, which is punctuated with small particles of magnetite.

The surface features striations that are formed when iron reacts with oxygen in the atmosphere. 

NMM 500:  BO-TYPE

NMM 1149:  PO-TYPE

Porphyritic Olivine

Porphyritic olivine (PO-type) micrometeorites are also made of forsterite, a type of olivine that is made of magnesium.

There are many morphological varieties of this type of micrometeorite; From evenly distributed small crystals, to crystals that increase in side, to extremely large or even possibly a single olivine crystal.

NMM 1149:  PO-TYPE

NMM 1271:  Sc-TYPE

Scoriaceous

When stardust does not reach a peak temperature of at least 1350°C (2500°F) during entry and deceleration, it barely melts. Volatile elements expand and escape in the form of gas bubbles, which results in a scoriaceous (SC-type) or vesicular micrometeorite.

Micrometeorites of this type are extremely difficult to find.

NMM 1271:  SC-TYPE

NMM 1271: G-, I-, CAT-typeS

Other Types

From G-types with dark silicate glass, I-types dominated by iron, and milky CAT spherules  enriched with calcium, aluminum, and titanium, to fossil, unmelted, and un-categorized micrometeorites.

There is no question that Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle's contributions have had a dramatic effect on the field.

NMM 1271:  G-/I-/CAT-TYPES

Jon and Jan are
EXCEPTIONAL ARTISTS AND SCIENTISTS. 

Michael Zolensky

NASA JOhnson Space Center

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Never forget: YOU ARE SURROUNDED BY STARDUST, inside and out.

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From directors Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer, this remarkable journey across our planet and universe explores how meteorites, shooting stars, and deep impacts have awoken our wonder about other realms-and make us rethink our destinies.

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Never before has it been possible to see stardust in such a large format with crisp details. The 500+ color images are made possible by a new photo technology developed for this project by the author and mineralogist Jan Braly Kihle. 

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The Atlas of Micrometeorites provides an INVALUABLE RESOURCE
for stardust hunters around the world.

Matthew Genge

Imperial College, London

ORIGIN STORIES

Jon Larsen revolutionized the study of micrometeorites when he became the first person to discover a micrometeorite from an urban environment. Then a new form of art emerged when he and Jan Braly Kihle created the world's first high resolution photographs of micrometeorites in colour.

Learn about the singular moment that led to Jon's groundbreaking discovery
and the phone call that kickstarted a truly epic friendship.

Jon Larsen revolutionized the study of micrometeorites when he became the first person to discover a micrometeorite from an urban environment. Then a new form of art emerged when he and Jan Braly Kihle created the world's first high resolution photographs of micrometeorites in colour.

Learn about the singular moment that led to Jon's groundbreaking discovery and the phone call that kickstarted a truly epic friendship.

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Micrometeorites

Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle have amassed the world's most expansive collection of urban micrometeorites and they want you to follow in their footsteps.

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HALLO and welcome!

We're Jon Larsen & Jan Braly Kihle

We are world renowned micrometeorite experts here to share our cosmic art and inspire the world to become star hunters.

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