The Earth and Space Dust

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"The Earth and Space Dust"
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Scientists are not unlike you and I when it comes to the frustration of dealing with dust, and in my way of thinking, dust is dust. Even so, science says space dust has a bigger impact on Earth than house dust does to your home. Dust is a universal issue, so we're not alone when it comes to dealing with dust.

Where I come from dust can be an irritating thing I battle with every day. No matter how often I clean as I sneeze, I can't keep the dust away, because you see, all around my Texas town, there's plenty of dust that blows around and sometimes there's so much dust that we can't even see to drive. That's why we call the Texas demise, "Dirt Devils in the sky." Even so and although we in Texas know that dust is just a small price to pay for living in a big, wide open place, I was still surmised to find that apparently scientists fuss just as much about dust as you and I who sneeze as we clean all the time.


I'm not sure how, but I found the answer to,"What is space dust and what is it made of?" All I was trying to do was to go online and find some new and improved miracle product for home dust removal, but somehow I got confused and ended up learning things about space dust that seemed more interesting to me than dust magnets will ever be.

According to Wikipedia , the free encyclopedia, cosmic dust is a type of dust that's made of particles in space which are just a few molecules of only 0.1 mm in size. That seemed pretty small to me, but then my research told me that cosmic dust comes from several astronomical locations, including intergalactic dust, interstellar dust, interplanetary dust and circum-planetary dust, which is such dust within a planetary ring, so you see, there's apparently a ton of dust out there. They also say that within our own Solar System, interplanetary dust causes the zodiacal light and sources of this dust include comet dust, asteroidal dust, dust from the belt and interstellar dust passing through our solar system. All I can add to that is that now I see why there's always so much dust in my house. Other than that, what does space dust have to do with us?


In April of 2005, Science Daily reported that space dust is more than just a nuisance. Those tiny pieces of dust just might potentially affect the world's climate, the sea and even the food we eat. They also explained that each year nearly 40,000 tons of cosmic dust falls to Earth from outer space, and just recently, the first successful chronological study of extraterrestrial dust in Antarctic ice has shown that this amount has remained constant over the past 30,000 years. This finding, Science Daily explains, "could help refine efforts to understand the timing and effects of changes in the Earth's past climate." The same study also used, "a new and improved," analytical technique to show that dust carried to Antarctica from continental sources changed depending on the climate. That fact is interesting to me, but now I see that their use of the phrase, "new and improved," is probably why I ended up finding this site with the article from Science Daily on the Earthly effect of space dust. It's strange how intellectually average human beings can discover and learn scientific things by such mysterious means, as looking for dust products.

Still, I'm left with even more questions than I ever dreamed I'd ask about science. One of them is this: If I can't figure out how to get dust our of my house, how will they ever decide how to get rid of those dirty dust devils within and beyond the sky? I suppose that's why it's great that God has provided Earth with more scientific minds than mine.


I found a study which appears in the July issue of the journal, "Science," involving research from The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. This, they explain, is a part of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, a very long way from where I come from, but it's also connected to The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany. The study found that the depth of the core they examined corresponded to the period between 6, 800 and 29,000 years ago, which is a span that includes the height of the last glacial period and the transition to warm conditions, similar to today's conditions.

The scientists collected what they referred to as, "particulate matter," which to me sounds like just dust, but this stuff was collected from the EPICA, which stands for European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica. With this source of ice core, they measured the concentration of helium-3, a rate isotope that is plentiful in the sun's solar wind and is carried to Earth within a lot of cosmic dust particles, measuring just a few thousandths of a millimeter in diameter. This dust stuff carry their helium load to the Earth's surface where they are preserved in the snow and ice of the polar ice caps, among other places so they say. They were also able to measure fin variations in the rate of cosmic dust accumulation between glacial and inter-glacial periods, as well as the helium isotope characteristics of this dust stuff. What they figured out was the fact that the accumulation of cosmic dust did not change very much as the Earth emerged from the last great Ice Age and entered the current warming period. They say this is a fact that is likely to bolster the use of cosmic dust measuring techniques for the futuristic and scientific climate studies, so it's good to know that scientists are keeping up with the dust.

In addition to all this stuff about dust, this study was the first to examine both cosmic and terrestrial dust using the same helium-isotope technique, and as a result, they also found that the composition of mineral dust particles carried by wind from the southern confiners to Antarctica change considerably as the Earth's climate changed, which explains a lot of things about dust to me. The project was reported to be supported by The Science and Education Foundation, and the information I found was apparently adapted from information provided by The Earth Institute of Columbia University, by people who know a lot more about space dust than me. Still, there are even more who choose to study dust, scientifically, which is no longer surprising to me.

Another study was documented in, "The Global Iron Connections Between Desert Dust, Ocean Bio-geochemistry and Climate," by authors who include Robert Duce, described online as, "The distinguished Professor of Oceanography and Atmospheric Science at Texas A & M, or as we say in the Lone Star State, "Those Aggies." In this study Robert Duce concluded that dust, and especially the iron in the dust, could have a global impact on the Earth far greater than anyone has ever dared to believe. He claims that dust which contains iron is being swept up into the sky from large, arid and desert areas like mine, and eventually lands in the ocean, he says. He also claims that it's not like just a bit of dust, but desert areas occupy about one third of the Earth and once it reaches the ocean, iron filled dust dissolves, and according to Duce, "This iron can then start a chain reaction of events in large areas of the ocean where it's the limiting nutrient."

What does that mean? I'll let Robert Duce explain. "Ocean plants growing in the area can be affected and, depending on the amount of iron present, the entire biological productivity of the region can be impacted." I don't know what you think, but that doesn't sound like good news to me and there's more to this scary scene.

The say that in the 1930's, "The Dust Bowl," storms of that period of time produced huge swirling masses of dust, just like those Texas, "Dirt Devils," but the dust from the Dust Bowl covered much of the western United States. Duce says that in the last thirty years, the result of human activity have been roughly the equivalent of a dust bowl itself, with huge amounts of land being cleared for construction to provide for the drastically increased population. All of this stirring up dust has changed the fact of the Earth. He goes on to ask, "With all of this dust reaching the ocean, could we fertilize parts of the ocean with iron to increase productivity?" The answer appears to be no. It would not be such a great idea to fertilize the ocean, apparently. Duce says we just don't understand enough about these types of growth cycles yet. The study says that dust storm frequency in some areas of the Earth have increased, such as in China, North Africa and the United States, along with maybe even Australia. These might just be related to climate variability or land use change caused by too much human activity.

Robert Duce says in his study that the dust supply from the North African deserts directly affects tropical areas of the Atlantic and sometimes even the Pacific oceans. He also says that typical dust particles contain only about 3.5 percent of iron, but this amount is very significant considering the enormous amounts of dust that's swept up into the air and deposited into the sea every year, which in fact, is roughly one billion tons.

To the question of what is important to consider about the long range effects of all this dust, Duce explained, "So there are some very big questions to be asked. If global warming is occurring as widely believed, what effect does this dust and its iron have on global warming? Would increasing the amounts of atmospheric dust cause the climate to cool because the dust would scatter more of the sun's energy back into space? How does this iron-dust specifically affect marine productivity, and could changes in this productivity affect climate by taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to fuel the growth of marine plants?"
"We clearly need more research on this problem," Duce adds. "This does not affect just one part of the Earth it affects the entire Earth systems land, atmosphere and ocean. If this dust is changing significant atmospheric and marine life processes, we need to know about it. We definitely need a better understanding of the iron-dust cycle to find out what the long-range impacts could be for all of us."


All these scientific studies have taught us a lot about dust and what it does to us, so let's hope and pray someday they figure out how to decrease at least the space dust to keep it at bay. Although I can't even figure out how to keep dust out of my house, hopefully scientists can figure out how to remove the space dust demise that affects all our lives.

For the source of more than just dust, go to this site for more information on space dust and how it relates to and creates Earth issues:

More about this author: Vicki Phipps

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