Star Dust

By Domenica Di Piazza, Editorial Director, TFCB

image TFCB science writer and illustrator Ron Miller is always feeding me the most wonderful science activities. I’m always amazed at how Ron is able to offer such an easy way to get a grasp of the huge cosmic forces at work around us every day.

The latest Ron Miller activity is for collecting meteoroid dust (image below). A meteoroid is basically a piece of rocky debris (i.e., junk) in outer space. The visible part of a meteoroid that enters a planet’s atmosphere is called a meteor. (People often refer to meteor showers—see image above–as shooting stars.) Scientists guestimate that something like 3,000 tons—maybe even more–of meteoroid material (i.e., space junk) falls to Earth each DAY. Try this Ron Miller activity to collect some of this junk yourself.

You’ll need:

a cookie sheet; plastic wrap; a magnet; a sheet of paper; a magnifying glass

To collect star dust:

Line the cookie sheet with plastic wrap. Fold the edges of the wrap under the cookie sheet so it doesn’t blow away. Place the cookie sheet someplace outdoors where nothing is blocking the sky. Be sure that the sheet is also protected from the wind.

Leave the cookie sheet outside for at least a week. When you bring it inside, the plastic lining will be covered with all sorts of debris. There may be leaves, grass, dead bugs, and many other things. Carefully run the magnet through all of this. (A piece of paper wrapped over the end of the magnet will make it easier to remove whatever sticks to it.)

Most likely, at least a few small particles will stick to the magnet. These are the remnants of meteoroids that have disintegrated in the upper atmosphere. They stick to the magnet because most meteoroids have iron and nickel in them.

meteor dust

Examine the particles under the magnifying glass. What do they look like? Compare them to the particles in the image at left. Meteoroid dust like this adds tons of weight to Earth every day!

Check in next week for more from TFCB–and enjoy the holiday weekend!

[experiment and bottom photo courtesy of Ron Miller; top photo courtesy of NASA]