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No. 44: Mar-Apr 1986

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Of Dust Clouds And Ice Ages

Ice cores from the polar ice at Camp Century, in Greenland, have been analyzed for the presence of cosmic dust.

"It is concluded that on five occasions during the interval 20,000-14,000 years BP, cosmic dust mass concentrations in the solar system rose by one and two orders of magnitude above present day levels. Moreover if the particles found in these ice core samples are indicative of the particle size distribution which prevailed in the interplanetary medium at that time, then it may be concluded that the space number density of submicron sized particles must have uncreased by a factor of 105 or more. During these times the light transmission properties of the solar system would have been significantly altered resulting in major adverse effects to the earth's climate. Thus it is quite possible that these dust congestion episodes were responsible for the abrupt climatic variations which occurred toward the end of the last Ice Age."

Whence these interplanetary dust clouds? The author of this article ruled out terrestrial volcanism (an insufficient source of iridium) and encounters with asteroids and cometary tails (too infrequent to account for the long periods of high dust levels). Rather, the dust source may have been the same event that created the recently discovered dust ring between Mars and Jupiter, which is believed to be only a few tens of thousands of years old. The nature of the "event" is not specified.

(LaViolette, Paul A.; "Evidence of High Cosmic Dust Concentrations in Late Pleistocene Polar Ice (20,000-14,000 Years BP)," Meteoritics, 20:545, 1985.)

References. See our catalog volume The Sun and Solar System Debris for more on the flotsam and jetsam of outer space. This book is described here. Also see the following item on "icy meteors" which is also pertinent.

From Science Frontiers #44, MAR-APR 1986. 1986-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987