Collecting micrometeorites

Micrometeorites are tiny pieces of space dust washed out of the atmosphere by rain!

To collect your own, you will need:

  • Bucket or other container
  • Coffee filter paper
  • Strong magnet
  • Plastic sandwich bag
  • White paper
  • Magnifying glass or microscope (optional)

Method:

  1. Put a small bucket or other container outside for a few weeks and allow it to collect some rain water. A flat roof would be the best place to put it if an adult can put it in position safely. If not, you could perhaps collect some water from a gutter coming from the roof – ask an adult for assistance.
  2. Pour the water through the filter paper so that it catches any solid particles.
  3. Let the paper dry out completely.
  4. There should be some little black specks left on the filter paper.
  5. Take the magnet and put it inside the sandwich bag. Hold it above the black specks and see if any are attracted to the magnet.
  6. Over the sheet of white paper, remove the magnet from the bag so that the magnetic particles drop onto the paper.
  7. If you have a magnifying glass or microscope, look at the shape of the magnetic particles. You want to look out for any that are rounded – these could be micrometeorites!

How does it work?

Milky Way Above Trees in Yellowstone park.. Night Sky,meteor shower.

The tiny metallic fragments you have collected are pieces of space dust — minute parts of asteroids or comets. Space rocks and dust come to Earth all of the time; when comets pass through the Solar System they leave a trail of dust and rock behind them and when the Earth goes through these trails, space rocks and dust fall through the Earth’s atmosphere. When pieces of rock the size of a pea or larger fall through the atmosphere, they burn up. We see these as meteors (shooting stars). But micrometeorites are so small that they hang around in the atmosphere until water condenses on them to form a raindrop. The raindrop then falls to Earth, bringing the micrometeorite with it.

If you look closely at the micrometeorites with a magnifying glass or microscope, you will see that often they have pitted surfaces and most of them have a rounded end. This is the end that was pointing towards Earth as it came through the atmosphere).

You can look for micrometeorites any time, but you may find more just after a meteor shower. The next big meteor shower is the Lyrids, from 16 – 25 April, with the most meteors expected on the night of 22 April. This meteor shower is called the Lyrids because the shooting stars appear to come in the night sky from the constellation called Lyra. But you’ll see them all across the sky, and maybe a few will land in your bucket!

You can see lots of different kinds of micrometeorites collected by Jon Larsen of Project Stardust: www.facebook.com/micrometeorites

Micrometeorites

Urban micrometeorites. © 2017 Jon Larsen / Jan Braly Kihle

Toni Hamill

About Toni Hamill

Hi, I'm Toni, one of Life's Education Officers.
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