Here, There, Everywhere


At this pressured time of year, let us pause a moment to ponder something really important: dust. You know, those little pieces of something you once watched float by in the rays of sun streaming through a window.

According to astronomical theory, dust is pretty much the basis for the universe and planets. Big enough? Dust is tiny stuff though, with many pieces one micron across, or one-millionth of a meter. No wonder they float and you couldn’t catch one when you were little.

It won’t surprise those who clean that dust is everywhere, even where you just wiped. Dust is even more ubiquitous than pet hairs, once thought by many to be the foundation of all matter. Dust is all over the universe, as well as in your den. Comets fly around for eons spreading dust like pixies. Last winter, a NASA space probe captured some dust, but it crashed into Utah, which already has plenty.


In faraway galaxies and close-by living rooms, dust tends to gather and settle when no one is looking. In homes, that tends to be on coffee tables and around the edges of books to show you haven’t been reading as much as claimed. Galactically, the theory goes, dust gathers around stars, eventually congealing into orbiting planets like Earth, only without the traffic and billboards. According to NASA, the Spitzer Space Telescope recently discovered dust rings around five distant planet-bearing stars about the size and the 5-billion-year age of our sun. Some newly discovered dust rings contain gaps, possibly where as yet undetected planets have formed or are underway.

Because these discoveries had nothing to do with murder or sex and concerned something as trivial as the origin of the universe and all life, the news was not widely distributed on Earth. Not even on “Entertainment Tonight.” It made Page 28 of this newspaper.

The import of these dusty discoveries is undetermined. They could help astronomers seek other planets like ours that might be inhabited by creatures who also dust visible horizontal surfaces for the holidays. Remember all this tomorrow, when you discover a new dust layer where you cleaned today. Think of it not as an earthly nuisance. Think of it as the start of a new planet.