(NEXSTAR) – Cosmic dust falls to Earth each year, and now scientists have estimated just how much of the tiny particles from comets and asteroids make it to the green planet.
According to a new study published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, an estimated 5,200 tons of space dust lands on Earth every year. That’s equivalent in weight to about 1,000 adult elephants.
As you can imagine, it’s tricky to quantify extraterrestrial dust. But researchers in Antarctica developed a method that allows them to track the quantity of space dust in snow, which they extrapolated to estimate the yearly output of space dust.
Over a period of twenty years, scientists with the French National Centre for Scientific Research have voyaged to Adelie Land in Antarctica to take samples. The space dust is well-preserved in the largely untouched tundra of the region.
The scientists dug large trenches of snow and carried it back to their laboratory in barrels, where they melted the snow to collect the particles. The space dust was then sorted and possible contaminants were removed.
With their Antarctic data in hand, the scientists extrapolated to determine just how much of the teensy particles — measuring between 30 and 200 micrometers in diameter — fall to Earth every year. They determined the number to be a whopping 5,200 tons.
They estimated that about 15,000 tons of space dust enters the earthen atmosphere each year, but much of it gets burned up.
The researchers said it’s important to track and monitor space dust as it’s responsible for bringing new elements to Earth.