[meteorite-list] Re: Meteoric Dust

Marco Langbroek
Wed Jan 1 2003

Ed [Cannon?Majden?] bombarded me as expert on cosmic dust particles in a recent email... ;-)

Indeed I did some work in this field; recovering (successfully) cosmic spherules from 400,000 yrs old sediment from an archaeological excavation. Analysis at the UNM showed at least one of these to be genuine. So at least I've seen these things and some experience with searching them under the microscope. Would not consider me an expert though. But I do have a few things to say:

Unfortunately, much of the magnetic particles to be collected with a collector on rooftop-level will probably not be meteoritic. As Ed rightfully remarkes, industrial waste products will [be found] among them, and magnetic spherulic particles are a known form of these. In addition, small magnetite crystals which form a natural, often abundant, component of soils, undoubtedly will be among them. I actually feel that with such an experiment (collecting with a rooftop collector), it is most likely that the vast majority of magnetic particles collected will NOT be meteoric dust particles at all.

In my own experiment I used a sediment sample collected from a sealed (and thus pristine) level predating (considerably - by 400,000 years) the onset of any form of industrial pollution. And even there, I found (after many evenings of searching behind the micro, and after first using a magnetic separation technique to extract the magnetic particles) only a handfull of possible cosmic spherules, picked out from uncountable quantities of clearly non-meteoric particles, mostly magnetite grains.
(The search image was for perfect spherules, as these are not likely to be natural terrestrial products, although even here, one has to be careful, magnetite grains from soils have a crystal appearance, although this is not always clearly apparent. Industrial pollution however can be almost perfectly spherulic too).

Thus, the remark from the old newspaper quoted, especially the second half, that: "Almost all the meteor dust in the bucket will contain iron; other particles will not. Thus any grains picked up by a magnet can be safely assumed to be meteor dust" is certainly NOT correct, as there are many [airborne] magnetic particles that have nothing to do with meteorites at all: not only the industrial waste products, but also magnetic soil particles blown about.

If you want to find meteoric dust, the best thing to do is try your hands at a sample which is likely pristine and predating the onset of industrial pollution. This is one reason (the other is connected to maximizing collection surfaces) why scientists in this field often turn to searching in samples of Antarctic or glacier ice, or deep sea sediment cores.

Hope I did not spoil anyones believes, but I have seen these kind of experiments of "collect cosmic particles yourself on your rooftop!" seen advertized many times in articles or internet pages, often even as proposed highschool or primary school science class experiments and I do not believe their optimism. I think the picture these paint of the chance of success and the level of certainty that what you collect is meteoritic dust, are much, much too optimistic.

Happy 2003 to all,

Marco Langbroek
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