Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Accretion rate of cosmic spherules measured at the South Pole

Abstract

Micrometeorites are terrestrially collected, extraterrestrial particles smaller than about 1 mm, which account for most of the mass being accreted to the Earth1,2. Compared with meteorites, micrometeorites more completely represent the Earth-crossing meteoroid complex3,4 and should include fragments of asteroids, comets, Mars and our Moon, as well as pre-solar and interstellar grains3,6. Previous measurements of the flux of micrometeoroids that survive to the Earth's surface have large uncertainties owing to the destruction of particles by weathering7,8,9, inefficiencies in magnetic collection or separation techniques7,8,9, low particle counts10,11, poor age constraint7,8,9,12,13 or highly variable concentrating processes12,13. Here we describe an attempt to circumvent these problems through the collection of thousands of well preserved and dated micrometeorites from the bottom of the South Pole water well, which supplies drinking water for the Scott–Amundsen station. Using this collection, we have determined precise estimates of the flux and mass distribution for 50–700-µm cosmic spherules (melted micrometeorites). Allowing for the expected abundance of unmelted micrometeorites14 in the samples, our results indicate that about 90% of the incoming mass of submillimetre particles evaporates during atmospheric entry. Our data indicate the loss of glass-rich and small stony spherules from deep-sea deposits7,8, and they provide constraints for models describing the survival probability of micrometeoroids15,16.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Approximate size and shape of the South Pole water well in December 1995.
Figure 2: Size and mass distribution of SPWW spherules.
Figure 3: Circulation pattern in the SPWW.
Figure 4: SPWW spherule flux compared with the flux measured above the atmosphere1 and in Greenland12.

References

  1. 1

    Love, S. G. & Brownlee, D. E. Adirect measurement of the terrestrial mass accretion rate of cosmic dust. Science 262, 550–553 (1993).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Peucker-Ehrenbrink, B. Accretion of extraterrestrial matter during the last 80 million years and its effect on the marine osmium isotope record. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 60, 3187–3196 (1996).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Brownlee, D. E. in The Sea (ed. Emiliani, C.) Ch. 19 (Wiley, New York, 1981).

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Brownlee, D. E., Bates, B. & Schramm, L. The elemental composition of stony cosmic spherules. Meteorit. Planet. Sci. 32, 157–175 (1997).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Bradley, J. P., Sandford, S. A. & Walker, R. M. in Meteorites and the Early Solar System (eds Kerridge, J. F. & Matthews, M. S.) 861–895 (Univ. Arizona Press, Tucson, 1988).

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Brownlee, D. E. et al. Identification of cometary and asteroidal particles in stratospheric IDP collecitons. Lunar Planet. Sci. XXIV, 205–206 (1993).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Murrell, M. T., Davis, P. A., Nishiizumi, K. & Millard, H. T. Deep-sea spherules from Pacific clay: Mass distribution and influx rate. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 44, 2067–2074 (1980).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Kyte, F. T. Analyses of Extraterrestrial Materials in Terrestrial SedimentsThesis (Univ. California, Los Angeles((1983).

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Peng, H. & Lui, Z. Measurement of the annual flux of cosmic dust in deep-sea sediments. Meteoritics 24, 315 (1989).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Yiou, F. & Raisbeck, G. M. Cosmic spherules from an Antarctic ice core. Meteoritics 22, 539–540 (1987).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Yiou, F., Raisbeck, G. M. & Jehanno, C. Influx of cosmic spherules to the Earth during the last 105 years as deduced from concentrations in Antarctic ice cores. Meteoritics 24, 344 (1989).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Maurette, M., Jehanno, C., Robin, E. & Hammer, C. Characteristics and mass distribution of extraterrestrial dust from the Greenland ice cap. Nature 328, 699–702 (1987).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Maurette, M., Hammer, C. & Pourchet, M. in From Mantle to Meteorites (eds Gopalan, K., Gaur, V. K., Somayajulu, B. L. & MacDougall, F. D.) 87–126 (Indian Acad. Sciences, Bangalore, 1990).

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Maurette, M. et al. Acollection of diverse micrometeorites recovered from 100 tonnes of Antarctic blue ice. Nature 351, 44–47 (1991).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Love, S. G. & Brownlee, D. E. Heating and thermal transformation of micrometeoroids entering the earth's atmosphere. Icarus 89, 26–43 (1991).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Flynn, G. J. Atmospheric entry heating: A criterion to distinguish between asteroidal and cometary sources of interplanetary dust. Icarus 77, 287–310 (1989).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Kuivinen, K. C., Koci, B. R., Holdsworth, G. W. & Gow, A. J. South Pole ice core drilling, 1981–1982. Antarct. J. US XVII, 89–91 (1982).

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Taylor, S., Lever, J. H., Harvey, R. P. & Govoni, J. Collecting Micrometeorites from the South Pole Water Well (Rep. 97-1, Cold Regions Res. and Eng. Lab., Hanover, New Hampshire, 1997).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Blanchard, M. B., Brownlee, D. E., Bunch, T. E., Hodge, P. W. & Kyte, F. T. Meteoroid ablation spheres from deep sea sediments. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 46, 178–190 (1980).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Koeberl, C. & Hagen, E. H. Extraterrestrial spherules in glacial sediment from the Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica: Structure, mineralogy and chemical composition. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 53, 937–944 (1989).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Harvey, R. P. & Maurette, M. The origin and significance of cosmic dust from the Walcott Neve, Antarctica. Proc. Lunar Planet. Sci. Conf. 21, 569–578 (1991).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Maurette, M., Hammer, C., Brownlee, D. E., Reeh, N. & Thomsen, H. H. Placers of cosmic dust in the blue ice lakes of Greenland. Science 233, 869–872 (1986).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Sedimentation Engineering (ed. Vanoni, V. A.) 91–96 (ASCE Manuals and Reports on Engineering Practice No. 54, ASCE, New York, 1975).

  24. 24

    McCorkell, R. H., Pinson, W. H., Fireman, E. L. & Langway, C. C. J Asearch for cosmic dust in a large collection of particulate and dissolved material from polar ice. Int. Assoc. Sci. Hydrol. 86, 25–30 (1970).

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Fireman, E. L. & Langway, C. C. J Search for aluminum-26 in dust from the Greenland ice sheet. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 29, 21–27 (1965).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Grun, E., Zook, H. A., Fechtig, H. & Geise, R. H. Collisional balance of the meteoritic complex. Icarus 62, 244–272 (1985).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Lever, J. H., Taylor, S. & Harvey, R. P. Acollector to retrieve micrometeorites from the South Pole water well. Lunar Planet. Sci. XXVII, 747–748 (1996).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Fluent Version 4.3, Fluen, Inc., Lebano, New Hampshire 03766, US ((1995).

  29. 29

    Lin, D. S. & Nansteel, M. W. Natural convection in a vertical annulus containing water near the density maximum. J. Heat Transfer 109, 899–905 (1987).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Lankford, K. E. & Bejan, A. Natural convection in a vertical enclosure filled with water near 4 °C. J. Heat Transfer 108, 755–763 (1986).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank J. Rand, J. Govoni and M. Shandrick for their help with our field work, and C. Engrand, D. Joswiak, S. Kuehner, D. Brownlee, M. Maurette, G. Kurat and C. Daghlian for their help with particle analysis. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation with additional support from CRREL.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to James H. Lever.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Taylor, S., Lever, J. & Harvey, R. Accretion rate of cosmic spherules measured at the South Pole. Nature 392, 899–903 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1038/31894

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing