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Asteroids May Influence Global Warming

Dust from asteroids entering the atmosphere may influence Earth's weather more than previously believed, according to an article in the journal Nature. Researchers have found evidence that dust from an asteroid burning up as it passed through Earth's atmosphere formed a cloud of micron-sized particles large enough to influence local weather in Antarctica, where glaciers are rapidly melting. Particles this size are large enough to reflect sunlight, causing local cooling and playing a major role in cloud formation. The dust can even have a negative effect on the ozone layer. This may temporarily help reverse the rapid melting of the Antarctic.

The size of an asteroid entering Earth's atmosphere is significantly reduced by the fireball caused by the friction of its passage. As much as 90 to 99% of the original asteroid may turn to dust as it enters the atmosphere. Where does all this dust go? Scientists formerly paid little attention to asteroid dust, assuming that the burnt matter disintegrated into nanometer-sized particles that did not affect Earth's environment.

But it turns out that the micron-sized particles of asteroid dust are big enough to reflect sunlight, cause local cooling, and play a major role in cloud formation, the Nature brief observes. Longer research papers being prepared from the same data for other journals are expected to discuss possible negative effects on the planet's ozone layer.

Observations of 1 Ceres, the largest known asteroid, have revealed that the object may be a "mini planet," and may contain large amounts of pure water ice beneath its surface. In the future, astronauts may try to ?lasso? Ceres and move it closer to the moon, where it could provide water for a thirsty base there.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show that Ceres shares characteristics of the rocky, terrestrial planets like Earth. Astronomer Lucy McFadden says, "Ceres is an embryonic planet. Gravitational perturbations from Jupiter billions of years ago prevented Ceres from [from becoming] a full-fledged planet."

Ceres is approximately the size of Texas and resides with tens of thousands of other asteroids in the main asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter. This asteroid belt probably represents primitive pieces of the solar system that never managed to accumulate into a genuine planet. Ceres comprises 25% of the asteroid belt's total mass.

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