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Micrometeorites

A Spotlight on Enigmatic Pale Micrometeorites

Searching for stardust is searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. But with experience, it becomes possible to confirm the criteria of extraterrestrial provenance by visually scanning through a batch of urban dust. In most cases micrometeorites look like black aerodynamic stones of the correct size, with one of the known textures: barred olivine, cryptocrystalline, and so on. Once an interesting stone is identified, the process then is followed by a check for excluding criterions, like fused spherules, splash marks, etc. 

In most cases this is enough for a quick positive identification of a micrometeorite, based on the morphology of the stone. But since we are still in the infancy of the exploration of micrometeorites, once in a while an unusual object attracts our attention. Naturally, as experience increases, the more candidates may be picked out for further exploration. A quick analysis under the scanning electron microscope (SEM) is usually enough to erase the question mark, thereby confirming or rejecting a candidate as extraterrestrial. This is why I always recommend that stardust hunters put aside strange but promising candidates for a future analysis. Access to a scanning electron microscope may be hard to come by, but it is always worthwhile if one is properly prepared. My favorite analyses are those of dubious objects where we may learn something new; a dark horse throwing light upon a new aspect of these majestic cosmic dust particles. 

One such anomaly is that of pale micrometeorites. While most micrometeorites are pitch-black or some variation of gray, an occasional rarity is micrometeorite that is pale or even white. In the case of glass (V-type) micrometeorites, we have even discovered colorless micrometeorites. How is that possible? 

In this context we are not talking about the rare CAT-spherules, which none of us urban micrometeorite hunters have found yet. I will write a blog about them later. But there are pale varieties of all the common micrometeorite types. Like NMM 3871, found recently on the roof of a shopping mall. It is an oriented cryptocrystalline (CC type) stone with a large metal bead in the front and an elongated tail. The size is an average 0.3 mm. Micrometeorites of this type are relatively common, but they are usually opaque black in color or have a pale halo around the metal bead, which possibly drained the surrounding material of iron. 

Cryptocrystalline micrometeorite NMM 3871 is a rare pale stone discovered and photographed by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle
Cryptocrystalline micrometeorite NMM 3871 is a rare pale stone discovered and photographed by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.

I have not seen any explanation of colorless or pale micrometeorites in scientific literature, but in The Atlas of Micrometeorites I present one hypothesis: oxidation. Perhaps a longer exposure to Earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere during formation may have caused this visually striking phenomenon. I suggest that this could have occurred due to a low entry angle and/or a grazing orbit with multiple attempts to enter the atmosphere. Furthermore, a low entry angle may be an indication of an unusual origin. While this hypothesis is plausible, to be honest, I am not entirely convinced about it myself. Science is not always about finding answers, but rather asking new questions. 

There is a possibility that the rare pale color is an echo of an unusual parent body in space. In my work I have not seen any chemical differences between the ordinary black and the rare pale varieties. The iron content of the matrix is low in general and, as we know, even small traces of iron may cause color changes. I do not have access to mass spectroscopy or microprobe analysis, which may be able to detect variations in the isotopes of these strange micrometeorites. Indeed, gaining access to these instruments is a future goal. 

Part of a new project with Professor Martin Bizzarro at the University of Copenhagen, will include spectrometric analysis of fresh urban micrometeorites. So, within a couple of months, it is possible that we may find out more about this phenomenon. Stay tuned to learn more about the progression of this co-operative study here at Project Stardust!

Perhaps one day we will know the answer to why these beautiful micrometeorites are colorless. Meanwhile, we can enjoy this new collage of twelve pale cosmic stones and wonder about what they have in common, apart from the lack of the ordinary black color? 

There is also one beautiful pale micrometeorite available in the Winter 2022 Fine Art Collection, NMM 1359. This exquisite cryptocrystalline (CC-type) micrometeorite features an aerodynamic triangular shape with a spectacular nickel-iron bead. 

Now you too may have a cosmic print on your wall! What will it remind you of? Whenever I look at a micrometeorite, I am reminded that no matter where I am or how dreary things appear, I am always surrounded by cosmic beauty.

Drop me a line on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to share how micrometeorites inspire you!

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!

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

SEM Collection

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

Color Collection

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FIREBALL: Visitors from Darker Worlds

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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.

Limited Edition

The Atlas

of Micrometeorites

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.

I HAVE TO KNOW

I'm ready. TEACH ME.

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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