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A new micrometeorite throws light upon an old mystery

The exploration of fresh micrometeorites from urban environments is still in its infancy. Despite examining these small treasures from space for six years, the status quo is still more questions than answers. Here is one new discovery, presented for the first time here at Project Stardust.

Last week, while we were photographing the glass (V-type) micrometeorite NMM 3369 (Photos 1 and 2), Jan and I noticed a phenomenon we had seen before: Rainbow colored Newton’s rings. These “rings”, which often have an irregular shape, occur frequently on fresh micrometeorites. This feature is not referred to in the scientific literature and, honestly, the first hundred times I observed this fascinating shimmer of colorful oxidation (Photo 3) I wondered if it was remnants of the dishwasher detergent I sometimes use when I rinse field samples.

NMM 3369, Photos 1 & 2

Photo 1_Detailed view of Project Stardust glass micrometeorite NMM 3369 showing oxidation near vesicles
Photo 1: Detailed view of Project Stardust glass micrometeorite NMM 3369 showing oxidation near vesicles. Photo by Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.
Photo 2_Second detailed view of Project Stardust glass micrometeorite NMM 3369 showing oxidation near vesicles
Photo 2: Second detailed view of Project Stardust glass micrometeorite NMM 3369 showing oxidation near vesicles. Photo by Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.

NMM 3999, Photo 3

Photo 3_Detailed view of Project Stardust micrometeorite NMM 3999 showing oxidation
Photo 3: Detailed view of Project Stardust micrometeorite NMM 3999 showing oxidation. Photo by Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.

Consequently, I have experimented with different types of detergent, and none at all. But the small rainbows still occurred, so it was obviously a real phenomenon on the micrometeorites. The enigmatic colorful oxidation has been discussed among stardust hunters, but none of us had any idea about what caused it. Jan Kihle, who is a professional mineralogist, once made a remark when we photographed a micrometeorite with extraordinarily strong oxidation around the metal bead, that “it is related to temperature.” But in which way?

This week, we observed small colorful newton rings on the highly vesicular glass micrometeorite NMM 3369, and this time we noticed that the newton rings are located exactly at the thinnest spot of the glass on the four vesicles that are still sealed. We also observed that a barely punctuated vesicle (top left in Photo 1) still has remnants of the newton rings around the edge!

This is the missing piece in the puzzle, indicating that the newton rings are indeed related to temperature, as Jan predicted. When a gas vesicle occurs inside a molten micrometeoroid due to expansion and degassing of the volatiles during atmospheric entry flash heating, the gas vesicles serve as small “parachutes”. This is splendidly explained by Matthew Genge in his 2017 research letter on the topic.

When the gas vesicles get near the surface, the thin glass experiences a relative lowering of the temperature due to inferior heat conductivity in the gas beneath compared with the exterior glass. This allows oxidation to take place locally on the surface. In the case of the many gas vesicles in micrometeorite NMM 3369 (Photos 1 and 2) this has formed perfect newton rings above each of the still sealed vesicles. As soon as this Eureka moment sunk in, I went through some older photos of similar rainbow-colored rings, like the brown micrometeorite NMM 2840 (Photo 4), and noticed that there is indeed a large gas vesicle right beneath the Newton’s ring. I am proud to present this new discovery here for the first time.

NMM 2840, Photo 4

Photo 4_Detailed view of Project Stardust micrometeorite NMM 2840 showing oxidation
Photo 4: Detailed view of Project Stardust micrometeorite NMM 2840 showing oxidation. Photo by Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.

What then, about other colorful oxidation that occurs without cooling gas vesicles beneath? One such example is the crackelated glass (V-type) micrometeorite NMM 1930 (Photo 5), where the entire surface of the spherule is slightly rainbow colored due to the large void inside. Or the frequently occurring oxidation that I often see on micrometeorites that have metal beads in the front, like the umbrella shaped NMM 3854 (Photo 6). It has oxidation with a rare pink appearance on the metal bead. And what about the small oxidation areas that are sprinkled over most micrometeorites?

NMM 1930, Photo 5

Photo 6_Project Stardust micrometeorite NMM 1930 showing oxidation
Photo 6: Project Stardust micrometeorite NMM 1930 showing oxidation. Photo by Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.

NMM 3854, Photo 6

Photo 7_Project Stardust micrometeorite NMM 3854
Photo 7: Project Stardust micrometeorite NMM 3854. Photo by Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.

Yesterday Jan and I photographed a new micrometeorite, NMM 4000, which not only marked my transition into a new millennium in my collection but also features beautiful colorful oxidation on several of the clear translucent olivine crystal faces. Why?

It can be explained with common crystallography. During crystallization, the olivine crystals transmit heat to the surrounding glass matrix and thus suffer a local cooling effect. As a result, oxidation can take place on the coolest parts of the surface area, like on the large rectangular crystal face in Photo 7.

NMM 4000, Photo 7

Photo 8_Detailed view of Project Stardust micrometeorite NMM 4000 showing oxidation
Photo 8: Detailed view of Project Stardust micrometeorite NMM 4000 showing oxidation. Note also how colorless (clear) the olivine crystals are in the surrounding matrix of brown glass. Several of the crystals have rainbow colored oxidation. Photo by Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.
Photo 9_Full view of Project Stardust micrometeorite NMM 4000 showing oxidation
Photo 9: The new micrometeorite NMM 4000 (~0.3 mm) is a porphyritic olivine (PO) micrometeorite, vesicular from degassing. Colourless translucent olivine crystals in a dark glass matrix, brown from traces of Fe3+. All over the stone are local areas with colourful oxidation. Photo by Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.

We will continue to explore these phenomena and publish everything here at Project Stardust. Hope you will enjoy it. 

Your comments, questions, and hypotheses are most appreciated! Add your thoughts to the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Yours truly,

Jon Larsen

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!

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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

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Michael Zolensky

NASA JOhnson Space Center

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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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