The Earth Should Read the Book, "Fast Food Nation"
Moving ahead, we go from weight loss to weight gain. As the sun is experiencing a weight decrease, its 3rd rock neighbor, the Earth, has a real appetite. Whether it’s empty calories or not, is up to you to decide, but expansion is the order of the day for good old Terra Firma. In actuality the Earth is getting fatter by the rate of 40,000 tons a year. WOW! This is a case where the old saying, "the more Firma the less Terra", has it wrong.
But what could account for the Earth’s mass increasing? It isn't from the mega creation of Facebook and Twitter accounts is it? No. Nor is it from the new collider at CERN making exotic particles. So what gives? Pardon the pun. Well actually it's the universe that is the enabler this time. See, there is a lot of stuff in our solar system left over from planet building. It has not been all sucked up by Jupiter, and it’s not all in the asteroid belt. There still is a massive amount of debris scattered trough out our solar system. Much of it is from the flotsam and jetsam which come off comets as they make their lonely trek across the heavens and around the sun. By the way, that’s what makes the wonderful meteor showers we astronomy buffs look forward to each year.
Now these particles are mostly really small, but there are lots and lots of them. And know they don't all burn up as they hit the atmosphere. Most wind up finding their way down to Earth, or floating around the upper atmosphere. How do we know this beside the educated assumptions based on our experience in space, and seeing as Thomas Jefferson said, "stones falling from the sky"? Well, did you ever see the movie, or better yet read the book “The Andromeda Strain"? Yes, it was a great book, and maybe the best of the Crichton movies, but the premise in that story deals with how we understand the debris that the Earth is being bombarded with.
You may remember that the deadly Andromeda Strain was brought to Earth by the Scoop 7 Satellite. A device specifically engineered to sample stuff above the atmosphere. Well NASA has done something in the same vain. Since 1982 NASA has been conducting high-altitude missions to collect stratospheric dust. They use the ER-2 aircraft (yes it's the modern version of the famous U-2 Garry Powers plane). It has a reported max altitude of 70K+ feet. And they continue to hit pay-dirt.
One mission specifically was very interesting. In April 2003 an ER-2 collected some space dust. It was later examined (2005) under a new and powerful transmission electronic microscope at the Johnson Space Center. The head researcher, Keiko Nakamura-Messenger had his suspicions confirmed. The cosmic dust they found was from the tail of comet 26P/Grigg-Skjellerup. That comet was originally discovered in 1902, and makes a visit to our neck of the woods every 5 years. What's amazing about the analysis was that the "grains" found were only 1/10,000 of an inch in size. SMALL! So how many of them does it take to equal 40,000 tons? You go figure.