It’s everywhere. It’s under your bed. It’s on the road. It’s in the air. It’s on Mars. What is it? It’s dust. For something that’s apparently everywhere, we sure don’t think about dust much. It’s time to dust off your thinking cap and learn something about this ubiquitous substance.
What is dust? Your answer is likely to be similar to what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about obscenity. It’s not easy to define, but you know it when you see it. You may not be able to spit out a definition for dust, but you know it’s what is covering the floor under your bed that hasn’t been swept since who knows when.
Dust really isn’t that hard to define. Basically it is fine bits of matter that hang in the air and settle on surfaces. Run your finger along the top of a nearby bookcase for demonstrative Exhibit A as to what dust is.
Big deal, you are thinking. Dust is merely an annoyance that requires us to use elbow grease to clean our houses every now and then. Wrong! Dust plays a big role in our universe and in our day to day lives.
According to scientist Joe Hanson, everything in our solar system began with a cloud of dust. Cosmic dust is prevalent in space where gas and dust clouds serve as precursors to planetary bodies. Carl Sagan poetically described Earth as “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” Once planets are formed, dust covers a solid planetary body. Dust storms on Mars are so massive that they cover almost the entire planet. Please adjust your idea of Martians being little red-men to being dust-covered little red men.
So there’s dust in outer space. What does that have to do with us here on Earth? Cosmic dust, also referred to as space dust, commonly falls onto our planet. According to one estimate, as much as 40,000 TONS of cosmic dust reaches the Earth’s surface annually.
Space dust which has fallen from the heavens is not the only dust with which we Earthlings come in contact. We create plenty of our own dust through industrial operations and transportation activities. Thirty-three percent of air pollution is caused by dust kicked up off the road by vehicles.
Of course, natural phenomena produce dust as well. For example, the wind may pick up bits of dirt or sand and carry it off through the air. The Sahara Desert is the major source of mineral dust here on Earth, an estimated 60-200 million tons each year. Reportedly a trainload of dust is carried off from the Sahara every four seconds. Saharan dust can be lifted by convection from hot desert areas and reach high altitudes. From there it may be transported worldwide by winds. The hot, dry air of the Sahara Desert sometimes combines with the dust to form an atmospheric layer known as the Saharan Air Layer. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a dust dune.
But all this dust is outdoors. We’re safe inside our homes, right? Uh, no. Scientists tell us that it is impossible not to have any dust in your house. And 2/3 of the dust we find indoors is from the outside. That dust is tracked in on your shoes or your pet’s paws. It blows in when you open a door or window or comes in through a vent.
Even if you sealed your house off from outside contaminants, dust would still be in your house. One-third of the dust is generated indoors. The major source of this dust is dead human skin cells. Each adult sheds about 1 1/2 grams of skin every day. Please remember that when you are scolding Fluffy for shedding on the couch. Fabric bits also contribute to indoor dust. Textiles, particularly carpets, trap dust as well as creating it when they disintegrate.
Dust may be made up of small particles, but over time those particles add up. According to Maria Popova, a foot of dust can accumulate in a span of over three centuries. What a mess your house would be if you don’t dust for 300+ years! Note to self: Dust at least once a century.
Dust is constantly being created (you shed dead skin cells each day), so dusting your house is a never ending task. If you don’t clean regularly, you may inadvertently end up with a less than desirable household pet–a dust bunny. A small clump of dust that forms under furniture and in corners that are not cleaned regularly is called a dust bunny. And you know how bunnies reproduce rapidly….
The presence of dust in your house also means the presence of disgusting bugs known as dust mites. These are tiny bugs in the spider family who live in household dust and feed off of dead skin cells. YUK! These bugs are also related to ticks and are non-biting; however, they can be an allergen. Bed linens are one of a dust mite’s favorite locations. This fact should give you nightmares even if you are awake.
We’ve worked our way down from outer space to the natural environment of Earth to inside our house. How about the human body? Genesis 2:7 relates that God formed man out of the dust of the ground. Indeed the human body is composed of materials and minerals found on the surface of the ground.
And what happens to the human body upon death? If you’ve ever been to a funeral you’ve probably heard the phrase “dust to dust.” Ecclesiastes 3:21 states: “all are of dust, and all turn to dust again.” The human body will decompose and turn into–you guessed it, dust. As Kansas sings, “All we are is dust in the wind.” And Queen would add, “Another one bites the dust.”
Even though we may not contemplate dust and its importance in the circle of life, we do mention dust in everyday conversation. If we get into a fight, we say we have had a “dust up.” In our competitive society, one may say someone he’s bested has “eaten my dust” or was “left in the dust.” In baseball, a pitcher may dust a batter off who is crowding the plate.
Dust is a fact of life. It’s above us in the skies. It’s below us under our beds. It’s around us in the air. It’s where we’ve come from and what we will ultimately be. Aren’t you glad you’ve dusted up on this subject?
Have you ever stopped to think about what dust is? How many dust mites do you think inhabit your home along with you? Did you realize that there is dust in outer space? How often do you dust your house? Will you do it more frequently after reading this post?