These three enigmatic spherules just solved a mystery

Through the years I have studied a large number of small spherical particles, called spherules, of both terrestrial and extraterrestrial origins. Out of the many thousands of spherules that were easily classifiable, there have been a handful of cases where the origin remains uncertain. These enigmatic spherules are my favorite because they challenge existing knowledge and bring about a chance to learn something new.

A new mystery

Occasionally, in a very exciting twist of events, new findings throw light upon an old mystery from years ago. One such case is a spherule found on the roof of an industrial building a couple of months ago.

At first glance, the 0.45 mm (450 µm) object looks too round and too metallic to be a micrometeorite. It reminds me of an industrial two-phase iron oxide spherule of the type I’ve seen so many times before. The particle looks like a golden metal sphere, partly encapsulated in a mantle of silvery iron oxide. It seems that every clue points toward a terrestrial origin, but a deep instinct activates my curiosity.

I bring the mystery spherule in to the studio to be photographed by Jan Braly Kihle. My hope is that the increased magnification will enable me to study it in greater detail. However, even after the photo session, which reveals a huge golden sphere partly covered with steel grey iron oxide, the origin is still uncertain.

So next I bring the strange spherule for a scanning electron microscope (SEM) analysis. The analysis reveals that the gigantic golden core is composed of nickel sulfide, and the grey iron oxide was just what it appeared to be. I think to myself, sadly, that among 99 analyses this is the going to be the only one to not reveal anything conclusive regarding the origin.

Then, following another instinct, I zoom in on the structure of the nickel sulfide at 30,000 times magnification. Instantly, I see a phenomenon I recognize! The structure is exactly like something I had seen on a micrometeorite two years earlier.

Two new connections

NMM 2025 is a porphyritic olivine (PO) type micrometeorite, measuring approximately 0.2 mm (200µm), with an unusual crystalline nickel sulfide area measuring approximately 0.08 mm (80 µm). The texture has a distinctive “leaf-like” characteristic, where the orientation is changed in a polysomatic way. Could the new discovery, five times larger, be a micrometeorite after all?

The answer became obvious when I studied the back side of the new finding. A coating of unmistakable
porphyritic olivine crystals covers the gigantic metal bead like a thin silicate mantle. The result is a micrometeorite like no other I have seen before. Basically, NMM 3324 is a nickel sulfide ball!

This, in turn, reminded me of another mystery particle that had been put aside due to an unknown origin
years ago. It is a spherule measuring approximately 0.3 mm (300µm) of greenish nickel sulfide with the same leaf-like texture, just like the other two. Because of these new findings, I assert that this third enigmatic spherule, named NMM 1929 is also a micrometeorite.

Two new research questions

Given these findings, two important questions arise: Could this be an unknown type of micrometeorite? And, what is the minimum ratio between nickel-sulfide and silicate in a micrometeorite?

I dearly hope that you have enjoyed learning about this mystery and seeing photos and SEM images of these enigmatic spherules!

Of course, your comments and questions are always welcome on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! It brings such joy to my heart to share this work with you.

Yours truly,

Jon Larsen

The new nickel sulfide ball, NMM 3324

NMM 3324 is an enigmatic mystery micrometeorite discovered and photographed by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle
NMM 3324 is an enigmatic mystery micrometeorite discovered and photographed by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.
SEM image of enigmatic mystery micrometeorite NMM 3324 discovered and photographed by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle
SEM image of enigmatic mystery micrometeorite NMM 3324. © Project Stardust, 2022.
SEM detail image at 30000x of enigmatic micrometeorite NMM 3324 discovered and photographed by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle
SEM detail image of enigmatic micrometeorite NMM 3324. © Project Stardust, 2022.
SEM detail of enigmatic mystery micrometeorite NMM 3324 discovered and photographed by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle
SEM detail of enigmatic mystery micrometeorite NMM 3324. © Project Stardust, 2022.
Composition details of enigmatic mystery micrometeorite NMM 3324 discovered and photographed by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle
Composition details of enigmatic mystery micrometeorite NMM 3324 discovered by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen. © Project Stardust, 2022.

SEM images of PO-type spherule with distinctive “leaf-like” texture, NMM 2025

SEM image of PO micrometeorite NMM 2025 discovered by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen
SEM image of PO micrometeorite NMM 2025 discovered by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen. © Project Stardust, 2022.
SEM detail image of PO micrometeorite NMM 2025 discovered by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen
SEM detail image of PO micrometeorite NMM 2025 discovered by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen. © Project Stardust, 2022.

Green nickel-sulfide enigmatic micrometeorite, NMM 1929

NMM 1929 is an enigmatic mystery micrometeorite discovered and photographed by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle
NMM 1929 is an enigmatic mystery micrometeorite discovered and photographed by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.
Detail image of NMM 1929 is an enigmatic mystery micrometeorite discovered and photographed by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle
Detail image of NMM 1929 is an enigmatic mystery micrometeorite discovered and photographed by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.
SEM image of enigmatic mystery micrometeorite NMM 1929 discovered by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen
SEM image of enigmatic mystery micrometeorite NMM 1929 discovered by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen. © Project Stardust, 2022.
SEM detail image of enigmatic mystery micrometeorite NMM 1929 discovered by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen
SEM detail image of enigmatic mystery micrometeorite NMM 1929 discovered by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen. © Project Stardust, 2022.

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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.

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