PUBLISHED: 15:34 EST, 4 April 2012 | UPDATED: 03:09 EST, 5 April 2012
Cosmic dust that fills space could be playing a part in climate change according to new scientific research.
Far from being empty, space is made up of tons of dust caused in part by collisions between asteroids.
So much of space is filled with dust particles in fact it is thought that if all the material between the Sun and Jupiter were compressed, it could form a moon stretching 25km across.
The new research program has been started as scientists try to see how much of this dust enters the Earth’s atmosphere – in a bid to find out how it might affect our climate.
It is believed that an accurate estimate of dust would also help in understanding how particles are transported through different layers of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Professor John Plane of the University of Leeds has already presented the Cosmic Dust in the Terrestrial Atmosphere (CODITA) project after it received a €2.5 million grant from the European Research Council to investigate the dust input over the next 5 years.
The international team, led by Professor Plane, is made up of 11 scientists in Leeds and a further 10 research groups in the U.S. and Germany.
The main sources of dust in the solar system are collisions between asteroids and material evaporating off comets as they approach the Sun.
Satellite observations suggest that 100-300 tons of cosmic dust enter the atmosphere each day.
Professor plane said: ‘If the dust input is around 200 tons per day, then the particles are being transported down through the middle atmosphere considerably faster than generally believed.
‘We will need to revise substantially our understanding of how dust evolves in the solar system and is transported from the middle atmosphere to the surface,’ said Plane.
The CODITA team will also use laboratory facilities to tackle some of the least well-understood aspects of the problem
Plane added: ‘In the lab, we’ll be looking at the nature of cosmic dust evaporation, as well as the formation of meteoric smoke particles, which play a role in ice nucleation and the freezing of polar stratospheric clouds.
‘The results will be incorporated into a chemistry-climate model of the whole atmosphere.
‘This will make it possible, for the first time, to model the effects of cosmic dust consistently from the outer solar system to the Earth’s surface.’