Between 60 and 100 tons of space dust falls to Earth every single day. That’s a lot of dust. Some of it has been pulled up from deep-sea sediments or melted out of ice near the poles. But there hasn’t been somebody dedicated enough — or maybe even absurd enough — to seek out these tiny bits of metal and rock from outer space in populated places.
That changed in 2010 when Jon Larsen, a jazz musician-turned-amateur scientist, started searching for micrometeorites in some of the dustiest corners of the Earth.
Larsen told Verge Science about the frustrating paradox regarding micrometeorites. “Everybody agreed upon that it was completely impossible to find the micrometeorites in populated areas of the world. And at the same time, everybody agreed that the daily influx from space is nearly 100 metric tons of cosmic dust. So I was like, ‘100 metric tons, and it’s impossible to find it? Something doesn’t add up.’”
Photo by Jon Larsen
Jon Larsen searching for micrometeorites in the Sahara Desert.
Larsen went to deserts, roofs, glaciers — essentially anywhere with minimal foot-traffic — armed with a powerful neodymium magnet and some plastic bags and collected piles of magnetic dust from all around the world. After cleaning and sorting the samples to rid them of non-metallic grime and separate out candidates that were too small or too large, Larsen delicately cataloged and photographed all of his finds. He has found over 1,300 micrometeorites since the conception of his project, even going so far as to use a scanning electron microscope to verify their extraterrestrial origin.
Photo by Jon Larsen
One of Jon Larsen’s findings: micrometeorite 516.
In an interview with The Verge last year, Larsen’s project piqued our interest and inspired us to hunt for our own micrometeorites. So, armed with the same tools, we decided to search on a rooftop in Brooklyn, New York. Surprisingly, we found some candidates, and we sent them off to be verified in Norway.
The video above documents our hunt, which was a roller coaster of emotions, to say the least.