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Home Cosmic DustSample CatalogsCatalog Vol. 20,1Catalog Format

Cosmic Dust Catalog Volume 20,1

Catalog Format

Each page in the main body of the catalog is devoted to one particle and consists of an SEM image, an EDS spectrum, and a brief summary of preliminary examination data obtained by optical microscopy. The unique identification number assigned to the particle appears at the top of the page. Sources of the descriptive data are as follows:

  • SIZE
    Size (μm) is measured using the original SEM image and its known magnification factor. For an irregularly shaped particle, the minimum dimension in the plane of the field of view is located and determined; then a second (maximum) dimension is measured at a right angle to the first. For a spherical or equidimensional particle, only a single size is recorded.
    Shape is generalized to be spherical (S), equidimensional (E), or irregular (I).
    Transparency is determined by optical microscopy to be transparent (T), translucent (TL), or opaque (O). Significant variations in transparency within a particle are annotated on the SEM image.
    Color is determined by optical microscopy using oblique (fiber optic, quartz halogen) illumination supplemented with normal reflected (tungsten-lamp) illumination.
    Luster is determined by optical microscopy using reflected normal (tungsten lamp) illumination and supplemented with oblique (fiber optic, quartz halogen) illumination. Commonly applied descriptions, adopted from mineralogical usage, include Dull (D), Metallic (M), Submetallic (SM), Subvitreous (SV), and Vitreous (V). Lusters transitional between categories or difficult to identify are indicated accordingly (Dull/Submetallic, etc.).
  • TYPE
    Type indicates a provisional first order identification of each particle based on its morphology (from SEM image), elemental composition (from EDS spectrum), and optical properties. We emphasize that, for catalog purposes, types are defined for their descriptive and curatorial utility, not as scientific classifications. These tentative categorizations, which reflect judgments based on the collective experience of the CDPET, should not be construed to be firm identifications and should not dissuade any investigator from requesting any given particle for detailed study and more complete identification. The precise identification of each particle in our inventory is beyond the scope and intent of our collection and Curation program. Indeed, the reliable identification and scientific classification of cosmic dust is one of many important research tasks that we hope this catalog will stimulate. We indicate particle "TYPE" only to aid the users of this catalog (especially those new to small particle analysis) in distinguishing possible cosmic dust particles from other particles which are invariably collected during stratospheric dust sampling. In this catalog, particles are organized according to their type. Categories used in this catalog are defined as follows:
    • Cosmic (C):
      Interplanetary dust (variety unspecified) or other extraterrestrial material. In the strict sense, "Cosmic Dust" refers only to those particles which have not been modified during passage from interplanetary space to Earth's stratosphere. In this catalog, though, particle type "Cosmic" is used to conveniently group together all particles which are judged to be of extraterrestrial origin, including those that have apparently experienced strong ablational heating or melting.

      Type "Cosmic" particles are provisionally identified as those having one of the three following sets of attributes:

      • a) Irregular to spherical, opaque, dark-colored particles composed mostly of Fe with minor S and/or Ni.
      • b) Irregular to spherical, translucent to opaque, dark-colored particles containing various proportions of Mg, Si, and Fe with traces of S and/or Ni.
      • c) Irregular to faceted or blocky, transparent to translucent particles containing mostly Mg, Si, and Fe but with traces S and/or Ni.
      Category (a) and (b) particles commonly display either complex, porous aggregate-type morphologies or distinctively spherical shapes and dull to metallic lusters which distinguish them from terrestrial minerals. Their EDS spectra are reminiscent of those exhibited by meteoritic Fe-NiS minerals, or combinations of Fe-Ni-S phases with olivine and/or pyroxene. Category (c) particles display morphologies and EDS spectra which suggest that they are fragments of olivine or pyroxene crystals, neither of which are significant components of stratospheric volcanic ash. Particles which do not fall easily into categories (a), (b), or (c) but which possess some of the same attributes may be classified here as "C?" or "Possibly Cosmic".
    • Artificial Terrestrial Contamination (TCA):
      Particles included in the "TCA" category are commonly irregular in shape (though a few may be spherical) and may be transparent, translucent, or opaque. Their EDS spectra commonly show Al, Fe, or Si as the principal peaks but with a variety of minor peaks including those of Cd, Ti, V, Cr, Mn, Ni, Cu, or Zn, and at abundances that are frequently much greater than those expected in common minerals. However, such compositions are similar to those expected for certain metal alloys.

      In some cases, a high intensity (relative to intensities of characteristic X-ray peaks) of continuum radiation occurs in the EDS spectrum, suggesting that low atomic number elements not detectable by the EDS (e.g., H, C, N, O) are abundant in the particle. Such "TCA" particles are tacitly inferred to by synthetic carbon based materials. (This category probably includes particles produced by or derived from aircraft operation or collector hardware, or possibly spacecraft debris. However, some of these particles are worthy of additional research and may represent true extraterrestrial "low-Z" material).
    • Natural Terrestrial Contamination (TCN):
      "TCN" particles may be transparent to opaque and may exhibit a variety of colors. However, they are commonly irregular in shape and distinctively rich in Si and Al with minor abundances of Na, K, Ca, or Fe. Some Fe-S particles are classified as TCN despite the fact that they may well be extraterrestrial. This action is due to the lack of conclusive investigations regarding these particular particles. Many particles containing only low-Z elements are also classified as TCN for the same reason.

      Morphologies and EDS spectra of most "TCN" particles compare favorably with respective properties of silica polymorphs, feldspar, or silicic volcanic glass, three materials that are principal components of stratospheric volcanic ash. In addition, platy or porous aggregatetype particles of light color and Si, Al-rich composition may be silicic clay minerals, common phases in Earth's surface soils. Irregular, reddish Fe-rich particles may also be products of terrestrial rock weathering.

      Recognition of these and other phases as "TCN" particles is based mostly on CDPET's collective mineralogical experience and comparison with reference samples. Less commonly, the "TCN" category may include distinctive particles with apparently nonrandom shapes which are rich in low atomic number elements (as inferred from their EDS spectra having high levels of continuum x radiation and relatively small peaks for characteristic X-rays). Those rare particles are distinguished from "TCA" particles by their unusual, organized morphologies and probably represent biological contaminants.
    • Aluminum or Aluminum Oxide Sphere (AOS):
      An AOS particle is transparent, subvitreous, vitreous to metallic in luster, colorless to pale yellow, and at least approximately spherical. However, shape may range from nearly perfect sphericity to pronounced ellipticity and surface texture may range from very smooth to rough. Other spheres or irregularly shaped material may be attached to its surface. Al is the distinctively dominant (or only) peak in its EDS spectrum. A sphere displaying the attributes of an AOS except with major elements in addition to Al may be listed as "AOS?" or "?". Transparent Al rich particles of irregular shape would probably be listed as "TCA". Most AOS particles are products of solid fuel rocket exhausts.
    Again, this system for provisional classification of particles is presented only as a first order attempt to distinguish particles which are probably extraterrestrial in origin from those which are probably contaminants. All particles will require careful research examination before they can be satisfactorily identified
    Comments are included for particles with special features or histories. Any large "cluster" particles, which have broken apart on the collector, have small portions present in the catalog as different "sibling" grains; the comments reflect these relationships. For example, any particle with a cluster number designation in the comments field represents a much larger parent particle remaining on the collection plate, which is also available for allocation in part or in whole.