Can you collect meteorite dust in your backyard? How?
February 27, 2013 9:10 AM   Subscribe

I've been told recently that collecting micrometeorites is as easy, basically, as placing a clean surface outside and picking through the debris you collect because thousands of tons of space dust and debris fall to Earth every day. That can't be all there is to it, can it? How do you know whether you're looking at Earth dust or space dust?

After the recent flyby of 2012DA14 and the coincidental meteorite strike in Russia, I've become interested in meteorites. I've read a little about astronomy and I've talked to the guy who runs the local observatory. He says it's possible to collect meteorite dust in your own backyard.

According to him and according to some of the things I read, you basically just put something like a cookie sheet outside for a week or three to catch any crud that lands in it. Then you run a magnet through it and carefully examine with a microscope the bits of dust and whatnot for things that look like this.

But the astronomer I talked to also said that most space debris is not metallic, so I conclude the magnet would be useless for most of what you'd catch. Also, how the heck could you tell whether you were looking at dust and debris from the Earth or from beyond?

Does this method really work?
posted by Sleeper to Science & Nature (4 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Another method mentioned is putting a plastic bag with a magnet in it in your rain gutters. But surely that would collect so much more roof debris than space debris that it would be useless.

I also found this cool little project from some European astronomers where they talk about collecting space debris in Antarctica, which being covered with snow is one huge relatively clean surface:

But I'm still not clear on how to differentiate Earth crud and space crud. It's a big needle-in-a-haystack problem.
posted by Sleeper at 9:19 AM on February 27, 2013

From the i09 link:

When I was a grad student (working on micrometeorites), myself and others tested the "rain gutter and magnets" theory and couldn't find a single particle out of many thousand we looked at that had a composition more consistent with an extraterrestrial origin than an anthropogenic origin.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:21 AM on February 27, 2013

Best answer: This PDF puports to show what they look like. I got interested in this awhile back and I seem to recall that the results would be more fruitful right after a period of heavy rain. One method involved putting a magnet into a plastic bag and trawling around the bottom of large standing puddles and ponds. When you drew the magnet out, you turned the bag inside out to trap everything, and then you could pick around in the muck looking for the little beads. Never got around to trying it myself, though.
posted by jquinby at 9:39 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might like to read The Secret Life of Dust. Your patio table has tiny specks of Saraha sand, dust from Parisian bicycle tires, brake lining powder from Moscow, and so on. The trick is to determining whether or not that magnetic stuff is metorite dust. Most is probably from factories in China.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:28 AM on February 27, 2013

« Older Storing circular knitting needles   |   Where can I get CFLs that aren't orange or blue... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.