Fire in the Sky: Collecting Iron Micrometeorites

Reading Time: 2 minutes

MeteorMeteor Perhaps as a child you made a wish on a falling star, and perhaps as a parent you’ve encouraged your young ones to do the same. But wouldn’t it be neat to have a falling star you could carry in your pocket, to make a wish on whenever you wanted to?

Falling stars aren’t stars at all but meteors – bits of rock or iron that have drifted through space until they were caught by the Earth’s gravity and pulled into the atmosphere. Most meteors burn up as they hurtle through the upper atmosphere, making the familiar bright streaks we call shooting or falling stars. Some meteors are large enough to survive the trip and become meteorites – meteors that have reached Earth’s surface.

Finding and collecting large meteorites is challenging, but micrometeorites can be collected in your own back yard. Micrometeorites are tiny bits of meteoric material that survived the trip through the atmosphere not because they’re large, but because they’re so small they travel slowly through the air and don’t get hot enough to burn up.

This article at Bizzarre Stuff tells how to collect iron micrometeorites anywhere using distilled water, a magnet, a microscope, and a few household items:

http://bizarrelabs.com/met.htm

This article, a lab assignment for a Physical Science class at California State University, Fresno, gives a simpler method:

http://zimmer.csufresno.edu/~fringwal/09-The-Hunt-for-Micrometeorites.pdf

According to the Bizzarre Stuff article, the best times to catch micrometeorites is during a major meteor shower. One of the best showers is the Geminid shower, which is conveniently just a few weeks away. Also, a contributor to the article says that another good way to find micrometeorites is to melt fresh snow. Snowflakes usually form around dust particles, but in a pinch any tiny piece of rock or iron will do. Since winter is fast approaching us northern geeks, we’re coming up on prime micrometeorite hunting season!

So the next time you see a falling star, don’t just make a wish – catch it!

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