Micrometeorites are everywhere. Think of them as tiny space invaders — specks of dust, sometimes smaller than a grain of sand, that have survived a trip through space and a hellacious entry into Earth’s atmosphere. They’re so small that most can’t be seen by the naked eye. Until recently, scientists thought they were too small to be spotted in populated areas.
A new book by Jon Larsen takes a closer look at these extraterrestrial particles — a much closer look. “In Search of Stardust: Amazing Micrometeorites and Their Terrestrial Imposters” uses high-resolution microscopes to home in on the glittering, strangely shaped debris.
Larsen, a Norwegian jazz musician, began his search for the miniature space rocks after one landed on his outdoor table near Oslo. The glistening speck caught his eye, and he wondered whether it had come from space. He did some research and learned that because of the debris generated by humans, scientists doubted that this dust could be detected in or near cities at all.
The problem is the particles’ tiny size — and the man-made contaminants that conceal them in urban areas. Larsen collected hundreds of samples of sludge and dirt from all seven continents. He figured out how to separate micrometeorites from the grime that surrounds them and proved that the space stones can be found in cities.
Larsen tells the scientific story of urban micrometeorites, but the magnified photos of the microscopic particles are the reason to pick up his book.
It’s unclear where they come from: They could originate in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter or even be made of material that existed before the sun formed. But their mysterious origins make their weird textures, shapes and colors even more intriguing.
You don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy “In Search of Stardust,” just someone who wonders what’s beyond Earth’s borders. The book is a reminder that space isn’t far away: If you look carefully, some of it is right in front of you.