Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Written In Dust: Microscopic Particles From Space Rain Down On Earth

Date:
April 30, 2005
Source:
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Summary:
Many scientists fight a never-ending battle against dust in their laboratory. Gisela Winckler, however, can’t get enough. Before you send her what’s under your bed, though, she’s only interested in a very special kind of dust — the kind that rains down on the Earth from outer space. Winckler uses the tiny amounts of interplanetary dust she finds in sediment cores from the sea floor to get a clearer picture of the Earth’s geology and climate hundreds of thousands of years ago.

“The fact that you can even measure interplanetary dust never ceases to amaze me,” says Doherty associate research scientist Gisela Winckler. “That you can use this really rare extraterrestrial stuff to understand some basic processes on Earth is even more incredible.” Above: A piece of interplanetary dust that likely originated in the early days of our solar system and collected by a high-flying aircraft.
Credit: Photo NASA

Many scientists fight a never-ending battle against dust in their laboratory. Gisela Winckler, however, can’t get enough. Before you send her what’s under your bed, though, she’s only interested in a very special kind of dust — the kind that rains down on the Earth from outer space. Winckler uses the tiny amounts of interplanetary dust she finds in sediment cores from the sea floor to get a clearer picture of the Earth’s geology and climate hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Currently a Doherty associate research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Winckler began examining interplanetary dust as a post-doctoral researcher to, in her words, do something a little different. After studying physics as an undergraduate and isotopes of helium found in the ocean as a doctoral student, she turned to something so different that it could only come from space: extraterrestrial 3He, an isotope that is extremely rare on earth but highly enriched in interplanetary dust.

“I was really looking for an exit from classical physics,” said Winckler. “This was an opportunity to use basic physical principles to understand environmental systems.”

Every year nearly 40,000 tons of microscopic particles from asteroid collisions or passing comets rain down on the Earth. Much of this extraterrestrial debris is vaporized or melted in the atmosphere, its minute cargo of 3He lost. But a small amount of dust — mainly particles no bigger than the width of a human hair-- survives entry and settles to the bottom of oceans and lakes or is trapped in ice.

Scientists have known about interplanetary dust for more than a century. In the late 1800s, researchers on the HMS Challenger, the first vessel dedicated entirely to oceanographic study, discovered a small amount of something in clay samples raised from the sea floor that they could not match with any terrestrial source. They correctly surmised that it must have had a cosmic origin.

Today, scientists use high-altitude aircraft to gather samples of interplanetary dust and study the origin of the solar system. A NASA mission is also scheduled to bring dust from the tail of a comet back to Earth in 2006. But for paleoclimate experts like Winckler, it’s not the fresh dust that matters — it's the stuff that has been slowly building up in the climate archives of the Earth over centuries that tells a more important story.

Because interplanetary dust filters down through the atmosphere at such a constant rate, Winckler can use the trace amount of 3He in a piece of sediment core to determine how quickly the sediment itself built up. From this, she and others can determine such things as how quickly the Earth’s biologic systems recovered from the impact of the asteroid that killed off dinosaurs (about 10,000 years) or to study the periodic shifts in climate that ripple through the Earth’s past.

“The fact that you can even measure interplanetary dust never ceases to amaze me,” says Winckler. “That you can use this really rare extraterrestrial stuff to understand some basic processes on Earth is even more incredible.”

The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a member of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, is one of the world's leading research centers examining the planet from its core to its atmosphere, across every continent and every ocean. From global climate change to earthquakes, volcanoes, environmental hazards and beyond, Observatory scientists provide the basic knowledge of Earth systems needed to inform the future health and habitability of our planet.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world's leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines — earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences — and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor.

For more information, visit http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "Written In Dust: Microscopic Particles From Space Rain Down On Earth." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 April 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/04/050428175700.htm>.
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. (2005, April 30). Written In Dust: Microscopic Particles From Space Rain Down On Earth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/04/050428175700.htm
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "Written In Dust: Microscopic Particles From Space Rain Down On Earth." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/04/050428175700.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

3BL Media (Oct. 20, 2014) Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-fuel Impala Video provided by 3BL
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) Suni, a rare northern white rhino at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, died Friday. This, as many media have pointed out, leaves people fearing extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Beijing Marathon Runners Brave Hazardous Air Pollution

Beijing Marathon Runners Brave Hazardous Air Pollution

AFP (Oct. 19, 2014) Tens of thousands of runners battled thick smog at the Beijing Marathon on Sunday, with some donning masks as the levels of PM2.5 small pollutant particles soared to 16 times the maximum recommended level. Duration: 00:54 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins