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Micrometeorites

An Introduction to Micrometeorite Types: Barred Olivine

Micrometeorites are tiny particles from space that have landed on the surface of the Earth. No larger than a grain of sand, most micrometeorites come from comets and asteroids. Some, however, may travel to us from the outermost reaches of our solar system and beyond. Put simply, they are the oldest matter there is and nothing on Earth has traveled farther.

Shortly after I discovered the world’s first urban micrometeorite in 2015, I began engaging with fellow micrometeorite enthusiasts from around the world on social media. I received many questions about how to find micrometeorites and many others about how micrometeorites can be classified. What do the different types look like? What are they made of? And, how are they formed?

The first two of these questions have been explored quite thoroughly by myself and several of my academic colleagues. This latter question, however, remains somewhat of an enigma. In fact, Jan Braly Kihle and I recently began a new research project with Dr. Roar Skartlien from the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) to investigate this very question.

Because this is such a popular question, I thought it would be fun (and helpful) to summarize what is currently known about each of the different micrometeorite types here on the Project Stardust blog. My hope is that this blog series will be interesting to refer back to as our new research project continues and our understanding of micrometeorite formation changes over time.

When cosmic dust particles end their journey, their path through our atmosphere transforms them from rough space minerals into polished jewels. Depending on the angle of entry, initial mass and speed, heat caused by friction will vary significantly. This in turn leads to substantial differentiation in both chemical and morphological characteristics.

To begin this series, I will first introduce barred olivine micrometeorites. Enjoy!

Barred Olivine (BO-type) Micrometeorites

Photo 1: NMM 4028 is a barred olivine micrometeorite discovered by Project Stardust Founder Jon Larsen in Tårup (Firkløverskolen), Denmark. Photo by Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.
Photo 1: NMM 4028 is a barred olivine micrometeorite discovered by Project Stardust Founder Jon Larsen in Tårup (Firkløverskolen), Denmark. Photo by Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.

When one first begins hunting for stardust, it is overwhelmingly likely that the first micrometeorite to be encountered will be a barred olivine (BO-type), as this is the most common type. These cosmic particles are composed mainly of the magnesium variety of olivine, which is called forsterite, and have small amounts of magnetite in the interstitial glass. 

A super detail image of NMM 3193, a barred olivine micrometeorite discovered by Project Stardust Founder Jon Larsen in Skjetten (Maxbo), Norway. Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle generated the world's highest resolution image of a micrometeorite when they photographed NMM 3193 using a new technique in June, 2022. © Project Stardust, 2022.
A super detail image of NMM 3193, a barred olivine micrometeorite discovered by Project Stardust Founder Jon Larsen in Skjetten (Maxbo), Norway. Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle generated the world’s highest resolution image of a micrometeorite when they photographed NMM 3193 using a new technique in June, 2022. © Project Stardust, 2022.

Barred olivine particles melt completely as they descend through the atmosphere. While in a liquid state, surface tension bends the micrometeoroid into spherules, round particles, or subspherical aerodynamic stones.

Once the particle begins to cool during deceleration, magnetite and olivine crystals begin to form. Many BO-type particles are made of a single crystal domain, while others have numerous domains. The surface of barred olivine micrometeorites have striations that, with practice, become easily recognizable. At times, these striations will be punctuated by metallic magnetite “Christmas tree” crystals, which are formed when iron reacts with oxygen in the atmosphere. 

A scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of NMM 866, which was discovered by Project Stardust Founder Jon Larsen. © Project Stardust, 2022.
A scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of NMM 866, which was discovered by Project Stardust Founder Jon Larsen. © Project Stardust, 2022.

Current estimates suggest that between 5-10% of barred olivine micrometeorites have at least one metal bead. These beads, if present, may serve as a nucleus for crystallization. 

NMM 4032 is a barred olivine micrometeorite discovered by Project Stardust Founder Jon Larsen in Tårup (Firkløverskolen), Denmark. Photo by Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.
NMM 4032 is a barred olivine micrometeorite discovered by Project Stardust Founder Jon Larsen in Tårup (Firkløverskolen), Denmark. Photo by Jon Larsen and Jan Braly Kihle. © Project Stardust, 2022.

I hope you enjoyed learning about barred olivine micrometeorites! If you’re curious the micrometeorites in the featured image of this blog post are outlined below:

  • Middle row: NMM 930, NMM 4032, NMM 3193
  • Bottom row: NMM 455, NMM 1380, NMM 4028

To learn more, check out our limited edition artbook, The Atlas of Micrometeorites, which includes dozens of astounding high resolution color images of every micrometeorite type in large format. 

Give yourself the gift of a cosmic perspective. Our limited edition Winter 2022 Fine Art Collection includes barred olivine micrometeorite, NMM 2889, an aerodynamic ellipsoid particle with a captivating dark gray body color and fascinating circular crystal formations on its surface. To us, a gem like this serves as a potent reminder that no matter how bleak our surroundings may seem, we are always surrounded by beauty.

Thanks for being here and, as always, if you have questions, please connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, or 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!

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

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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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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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