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Micrometeorites

These Low Heated Micrometeorites have Sulfide “Craters”

During the Concordia expedition to Antarctica in the year 2000, French scientist Dr. Michel Maurette and his two then students, now colleagues Drs. Cecile Engrand and Jean Duprat discovered a new type of micrometeorite. In their publication they describe a variety of low heated porphyritic olivine (PO-type) micrometeorites that are characterized by a low degree of elemental differentiation. It is without aerodynamic properties, but surface tension has pulled the semi-liquid rock into a sub-spherical shape due to the flash heating that occurred during atmospheric entry. On the surface are chunks of nickel-iron and a surplus of iron sulfide. Holes from degassing surrounded that are also surrounded by iron sulfide are present, too. In Photo 1 is a black and white scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of this type of micrometeorite NMM 2015. The matrix is olivine (forsterite) crystals, which often are white or colorless, in contrast to the black color of ordinary PO-type micrometeorites. Whether or not this is a clue to their precursor in Space is an open question.

PHOTO 1, NMM 2015

SEM image of NMM 2015 is a low heated po type micrometeorite discovered by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen_Photo 1
Photo 1: SEM image of NMM 2015 is a low heated po type micrometeorite discovered by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen. © Project Stardust, 2022.

The presence of iron sulfide is interesting because sulphur is typically an element that rapidly escapes with other volatile elements. The fact that it has not escaped indicates a specific peak temperature during formation. Furthermore, sulfide is rapidly weathered down on Earth, so its presence on a retrieved cosmic spherule indicates low terrestrial age. It is for this reason that PO-type micrometeorites of this variety were not been discovered earlier. The micrometeorites retrieved on Earth until then, twenty-two years ago, had been old; thousands to millions of years old, and all sulfide weathered away. Today, on the other hand, we find fresh micrometeorites of this type frequently in urban dust. In the Atlas of Micrometeorites you will find more beautiful hi-res color photos of these fascinating treasures from space by Jan Braly Kihle and me.

Last month, I found a new micrometeorite of this type, which is presented in Photo 2. Note the huge “sulfide crater” at the top. I assume that this is from degassing but am not sure. Note also how the highly viscous iron sulfide has floated over the brim.

Photo 2, NMM 3790

NMM 3790 is a low heated po type micrometeorite discovered and photography by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle_Photo 2
Photo 2: NMM 3790 is a low heated po type micrometeorite discovered and photography by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.

A couple of weeks ago, again I found an interesting variety of this type. A PO-type micrometeorite with medium sized golden brown olivine crystals almost entirely covered with a thin layer of iron sulfide (see Photo 3 and the detailed image in Photo 4). Even though “crater”-like formations are typical features of these micrometeorites, I do not yet understand the dynamics of how they are formed. This will, therefore, be a topic that will be investigated further. Stay tuned!

The featured image at the top of this blog post is a new collage with nine similar cases from the Project Stardust collection, for comparison. They do have a bizarre kind of beauty.

Photo 3, NMM 4035

NMM 4035 is a low heated po type micrometeorite discovered and photography by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle_Photo 3
Photo 3: NMM 4035 is a low heated po type micrometeorite discovered and photography by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.

Photo 4, NMM 4035 Detailed View

Detail view of NMM 4035 is a low heated po type micrometeorite discovered and photography by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle_Photo 4
Photo 4: Detail view of NMM 4035 is a low heated po type micrometeorite discovered and photography by Project Stardust founder Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.

In our Fine Art Gallery there are some stunning prints of porphyritic olivine (PO-type) micrometeorites, so that you too may enjoy the wonders of the universe in your home. Enjoy!

Be sure to send me your questions and comments on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I always love talking about micrometeorites in comments and DMs. If you’d like me to record a video response for your question, be sure to submit it in our Weekly Micrometeorite Q&A, which is posted on Instagram Stories every Friday. (Responses are posted on Saturday or Sunday).

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.

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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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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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