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FOUND: Meteor Dust That’s Been Stealing Earth’s Atmosphere

A much bigger meteor (Photo: Navicore/Wikimedia)

High up in the atmosphere, more than 37 miles above the surface of the Earth, something strange happens. At night, all of sudden, there’s a spot where the proportion of electrons drops, precipitously. For years, scientists have puzzled over what causes these electrons to disappear, considering causes from “high-flying ice clouds to electrically charged water clusters,” according to LiveScience.

But now a team of atmospheric specialists think they have the answer: meteor dust is stealing electrons

This new theory holds that, as tiny meteoroids move through the atmosphere, their dust binds to free electrons. There are enough of them that they suck up those electrons at such volume that there’s a measurable difference in the electron concentration at the level of the atmosphere where they’re heated up.

There’s no definitive proof that this is what happens, but it’s a theory that better matches with observed conditions than previous ideas. The strangest part, though? “Eventually all this dust comes to the Earth’s surface. It’s about 100 tons per day worldwide,” the lead scientist on the study told LiveScience. These particles are so tiny we don’t notice, but essentially people are walking around with a sprinkling of meteor dust constantly falling on them.

Bonus finds: Pink hippogiant prehistoric egg shell

Every day, we highlight one newly lost or found object, curiosity or wonder. Discover something unusual or amazing? Tell us about it! Send your finds to sarah.laskow@atlasobscura.com.