Monday, June 29, 2009

Cosmic Dust in Kentucky

In the January 1914 issue of a professional medical journal called The Medical Council, there's an article entitled "Dust and the Genesis of New Diseases". t provides some fascinating nuggets of antiquated info on the subject of microscopic and near-microscopic dust, a key interest of mine.

A choice chunk of the article:

Cosmic dust, of which thousands of tons annually fall on the Earth, is often charged with living organisms...

Darwin described a fall of strange organisms covering an area of over a million square miles. Weber found myriads of germs in a fall of yellow snow in Peckeloh, Germany... In October 1846 over one hundred unknown organisms were observed as charging a fall of cosmic dust in France. Ehrenberg estimated that forty-five tons of organic forms fell in this shower.

But then, most interestingly of all, it says:

Palestine and Western Kentucky have also been experienced immense showers of dust charged with organic life.

The article's author uses "cosmic dust" to refer to any dust falling from the sky, and freely admits that there is no way to determine with certainty whether the substances in question came from outer space, other worlds, or just blew here from somewhere else on Earth.

A century later, we are now pretty sure that it's the latter, and that any mass rains of living organic materials were somehow deposited by the Jet Stream or other winds. Dust from the Sahara Desert, for example, blows high into the atmosphere and then comes back down to land on Jamaica regularly.

(The huge Bauxite deposits in Jamaica, by the way, are a direct result of millions of years of this trans-Saharan dust migration. Most aluminum soda cans in North America are actually made from this Bauxite, so next time you pop open a can a Coke, ponder that you are holding something derived entirely of ancient Saharan sand particles that made their way to the Caribbean, one particle at a time over millenia, to be mined in the present day and turned into aluminum cans for you and me.)

But we also now know that actual cosmic dust from space is falling on Kentucky today - and everywhere else, for that matter. According to the must-read book The Secret Life of Dust by Hannah Holmes:

The Earth is still gathering a hundred tons of space dust every day - to the delight of scientists... "Since every atom in our bodies came from inside of stars", explains astrophysicist Don Brownlee, "by studying these interstellar dust particles, we can learn about our cosmic roots".

The Earth grows fatter every day, snowed under by a continuous microscopic flurry of space specks. Rare as they are, on average, every square yard of the planet should nonetheless receive one speck each day. Statistically, it's a good bet that there's a fresh piece of space dust on the hood of your car daily...

They're everywhere", Brownlee says. "You eat them all the time. Any carpet would have them."

As for the cryptic reference to falls of organic material from space occurring in Kentucky, that may be a reference to the "nostoc" incidents referred to by Charles Fort as....

"The Kentucky Phenomenon."

So it was called, in its day, and now we have an occurrence that attracted a great deal of attention in its own time. Usually these things of the accursed have been hushed up or disregarded—suppressed like the seven black rains of Slains—but, upon March 3, 1876, something occurred, in Bath County, Kentucky, that brought many newspaper correspondents to the scene.

The substance that looked like beef that fell from the sky.

Upon March 3, 1876, at Olympian Springs, Bath County, Kentucky, flakes of a substance that looked like beef fell from the sky—"from a clear sky." We'd like to emphasize that it was said that nothing but this falling substance was visible in the sky. It fell in flakes of various sizes; some two inches square, one, three or four inches square. The flake-formation is interesting: later we shall think of it as signifying pressure—somewhere. It was a thick shower, on the ground, on trees, on fences, but it was narrowly localized: or upon a strip of land about 100 yards long and about 50 yards wide. For the first account, see the Scientific American, 34-197, and the New York Times, March 10, 1876.

Meanwhile, the dusty material falling to Earth that is verifiably interstellar in origin is studied routinely in the astrophysics departments of Kentucky universities, such as UK's 2D Dusty project ("2D radiative transfer in astrophysical dust") and Western Kentucky University's paper "Detecting Dust-Generating Stars in the Milky Way Galaxy and Beyond".

Considering that our planet is nestled inside an immense disk of zodiacal dust, there should be plenty of interesting research in this field unto infinity.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

I hypothesize that much Cosmic Dust originates in our own Heliosphere, by way of the Oort Clouds
as do many of the Meteors/Meteorites that enter Earth's gravity well.

I am curious to know UnK's take on The Kentucky Phenomenon (Bath County nostoc)!

Cheers! :-)