Cosmic dust is everywhere in our universe. If we could be able to gather all the material between the sun and the planet Jupiter we could create a satellite that is 25 kilometres (15 miles) across. Earth gets hit every single day with between five and 300 tonnes of dust and meteorites, which move into the middle of our atmosphere.
These particles enter Earth at a very high speed, depending on their orbit: 38,000 to 248,000 kilometres per hour (23,612 miles per hour to 154,100 miles per hour). During this process, the particles reach high temperatures of approximately 1,600 degrees Celsius (2,912 degrees Fahrenheit). When they reach this temperature they melt and evaporate – some particles can be as large as two millimetres in diameter (creating a visible meteors) or a fraction of it.
John Plane, University of Leeds professor and head of the Cosmic Dust in the Terrestrial Atmosphere (CODITA) project, received a €2.5 million grant from the European Research Council to research this theory over the next five years. It will consist of 21 international scientists; 11 from Leeds and another 10 from across the globe.
Are these particles contributing to the change in weather conditions? This new research program has been established to find how much dust that enters our planet can affect the layers of our atmosphere.
“If the dust input is around 200 tons per day, then the particles are being transported down through the middle atmosphere considerably faster than generally believed,” said Plane in a media release
. “We will need to revise substantially our understanding of how dust evolves in the solar system and is transported from the middle atmosphere to the surface.
He added the dust metals can affect ozone chemistry in the stratosphere. Cosmic dust can also fertilize the ocean with iron, “which has potential climate feedbacks because marine phytoplankton emit climate-related gases.”
“Cosmic dust is associated with the formation of 'noctilucent' clouds -- the highest clouds in Earth's atmosphere. The dust particles provide a surface for the cloud's ice crystals to form. These clouds develop during summer in the Polar Regions and they appear to be an indicator of climate change.”
The purpose of CODITA is to solve all these “conundrums.” Plane presented CODITA at the National Astronomy Meeting
on Mar. 30 in Manchester, England.