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Earth is covered in cosmic dust

Varieties of space dust, barely the width of a human hair. These photomicrographs were made with a special camera setup that magnifies the dust grains nearly 3,000 times. Credit: Jan Braly Kihle/Jon Larsen

The solar system contains a significant quantity of cosmic dust,  generated from comets when they orbit close to the sun and evaporate, and from collisions between asteroids in the region between Mars and Jupiter. 60 tons of Cosmic Dust is on an inter-planetary ride and landing on Earth every day.

Incredibly small dust, kind of like particles of smoke, from meteorites, comets, and other 4.6 billion-year-old pieces of our solar system fall into the Earth’s atmosphere.  And there is plenty of it.

These particles enter the atmosphere at about 25,000 miles per hour and are intensely heated by collisions with molecules in the air. Many particles are turned into gas which disappears into the atmosphere.

 These tiniest particles are released by comets as their ice vaporizes near the sun, while travelling through deadly ionising radiation, extreme vacuum and inactivation due to super low temperatures.

The gravitational pull of the planets appear to tug on the dust clouds of the solar system and slowly change their orbits. A wave of new terrestrial finds could help scientists better map the clouds, raising more questions for science about the structure of the universe.

Dust captured by a spacecraft from a comet’s tail holds clues to the origin of the solar system. The aerogel cubes, tinged lu­minescent blue, look like puffs of breath exhaled on a winter morning and frozen solid, revealing scores of tracks marring the cubes’ surfaces and interiors, some like sharp pinpricks, others like splaying roots.

There are four known sources of dust in the inner solar system:

  • Jupiter Family comets,
  • asteroids,
  • Halley Type comets, and
  • Oort Cloud comets

Cosmic dust provides direct evidence of events that may have happened in our solar system billions of years ago. On Earth the dust has other, more practical uses. It assists in cloud formation and helps to fertilize plankton in Antarctica.

 

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