According to a new report, more than 14 tons of interplanetary dust lands on Earth every day and more than 5,000 tons per year.
The vast majority of these particles are rich in iron and nickel and come from passing comets and asteroids – but these particles pose no threat to our world.
Each of these micrometeorites, as they are called, is tiny – from a few tenths to hundredths of a millimeter.
Understanding, however, can give them some insight into the primitive solar system from which they emerged, the researchers said.
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According to a new report from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), more than 5,000 tons of microscopic particles from space called micrometeorites land on Earth every year. Pictured is an electron photomicrograph of an unmelted micrometeorite found in Antarctica
Most of the extraterrestrial particles burn up in our atmosphere, while some pass through as falling stars and a small amount reaches the ground as micrometeorites.
For nearly two decades, scientists at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) have been measuring these terrestrial particles.
In collaboration with the University of Paris-Saclay, the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and the French Polar Institute, the researchers found that 5,200 tons land on planet earth every year.
That corresponds to almost 14 tons of space dust per day.
For the past two decades, researchers have collected samples from micrometeorites during expeditions to the Franco-Italian Concordia station in Antarctica, also known as Dome C, about 1,000 miles from the South Pole
This is not a man-made crisis – micrometeorites have always fallen on our planet.
“These interplanetary dust particles from comets or asteroids are particles from a few tenths to hundredths of a millimeter that have passed through the atmosphere and reached the surface of the earth,” say the authors.
To determine how far the surface goes, nuclear physicist Jean Durant led six expeditions over the past 20 years to the Franco-Italian Concordia station in Antarctica, also known as Dome C, about 1,000 miles from the South Pole and 680 miles off the coast of Adélie Land.
Since there is so little snow and almost no earth dust, Dome C is an ideal gathering place for interstellar dust
Dome C scientists collected enough alien particles 30 to 200 microns in size to measure annual variability and extrapolate for the entire planet
Since there is so little snow and almost no earth dust, Dome C is an ideal gathering place.
They collected enough alien particles between 30 and 200 micrometers in size to measure their annual fluctuations.
If you extrapolate the results to the entire planet, the total annual accumulation of micrometeorites is 5,200 tons per year.
“This is the main source of extraterrestrial matter on our planet, well ahead of larger objects like meteorites, for which the flow is less than ten tons per year,” according to the CNRS.
Around 80 percent of the micrometeorites come from comets, the rest from asteroids. This comes from an upcoming study in the journal Earth & Planetary Science Letters.
The main elements in this dust are oxygen, silicon, magnesium, iron and nickel.
‘Originally the composition of the earth was very similar to that of the sun or dust; But most of our iron and nickel went to the core when the earth melted, ”Duprat told Cabinet magazine.
One of the trenches was dug into the snow at DOME-C in Antarctica, where micrometeorites were found
About 80 percent of the micrometeorites come from comets, the rest from asteroids
“So if you take an earth rock – an average crystal rock – it becomes depleted in iron and nickel, and this is a very simple way of telling whether a rock is extraterrestrial or not.”
The particles do not fall evenly throughout the year and are not evenly distributed across the planet.
“If you want to imagine: the dust is more or less like the planets in the ecliptic plane, the plane of the earth’s rotation,” said Duprant.
The space debris poses no threat to humans and could help us “better understand the role these interplanetary dust particles play in supplying water and carbonaceous molecules to young Earth,” the researchers said.
Earlier studies have found significantly higher amounts of micrometeorites on earth in the ball park of 100 tons per day, according to SyFy.
Duprat explained to SyFys Phil Plait that the difference is that this study only looked at particles that have settled on the earth.
Most of the material that enters our atmosphere burns into “smoke” that remains in the upper atmosphere or drifts to the ground in particles that are too small to be captured by this study.