February 5, 2023
Understanding the relationship of meteor smoke to the phenomena of the Earth's atmosphere

Understanding the relationship of meteor smoke to the phenomena of the Earth’s atmosphere

O Instrumento Solar Occultation for Ice Experiment (SOFIE), da NASA, investigated the meteor smoke, consisting of small particles located at an altitude of about 55 km. Although their existence has been predicted for a long time, it is still unclear what shape and number of these particles are in the atmosphere and what role they play in other phenomena.

Meteor smoke is associated with space rocks, the burning of which dust in the atmosphere leads to amazing meteor showers – like a Geminiwhich takes place this month. This rain is caused by particles from the asteroid 3200 Phaeton, which leave bright trails in the sky as they pass through our planet’s atmosphere. However, what is not usually observed with the naked eye is another, more persistent rain consisting of smaller meteors.

During a Gemini meteor shower, it is possible to observe up to 120 meteors per hour (Photo: Playback / Wang Jin)

It is the “cosmic dust” that forms when asteroids collide or comets evaporate from the sun. These processes cause some of the material in the atmosphere to burn up on a smaller scale, and when this happens, these tiny fireballs form meteor smoke, made up of smaller particles that stick together. Because it is so young, studying it is quite a challenge.

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For this reason, NASA scientists decided to use the SOFIE experiment, which was launched aboard the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellite (AIM) in 2007. In its orbit, SOFIE observes the Sun through Earth’s atmosphere and gathers information by light across it, measuring the intensity of Specific wavelengths of light at different heights.

Using this information, it is possible to determine which atoms and molecules are present in the atmosphere, including also meteor smoke. Through the data, researchers were able to create the first space survey of meteorite smoke, and found that it is mainly composed of iron, oxygen, silicon and magnesium.

Secrets of meteor smoke

It is not yet known exactly how much cosmic material reached the Earth’s atmosphere, and before answering this question, scientists concluded that it was necessary to discover the minerals that formed the meteorite smoke first. In 2017, they were able to use the data to reduce the formation odds to nine; However, it remained to be discovered which of the nine configuration scenarios could be used in the models.

Particles of olive metal were present in samples of cosmic dust collected in Antarctica (Image: Reproduction/NASA Ames Research Center/Tom Troyer)

In a study by the University of Leeds group, in which researchers collected samples of cosmic dust that escaped passing through the atmosphere, researchers found that the percentage of iron, magnesium and silicon found matched one of nine mineral variations identified by the SOFIE team. With olivine, an iron-rich green mineral.

Using data analysis and calculations, the Leeds team estimated the amount of cosmic material that could enter the atmosphere; Then, based on the SOFIE team’s models with information from olivine, the two teams concluded that every day, about 25 tons of extraterrestrial material comes to our planet. While much remains to be discovered about the effects of meteorite dust, it may be related to other phenomena.

One of them is the night clouds observed during the summer at some latitudes. There was already some speculation that it was formed by ice, and in 2012, researchers discovered that meteor smoke could be responsible for dust grains, which can form the core needed for ice crystal. Another possible phenomenon related to the formation of water in the atmosphere is the atmospheric layer at an altitude of about 80 km.

It is possible for oxygen and hydrogen to react together and form water; However, as with the ice crystals in nocturnal clouds, hydrogen and water need a solid surface to interact – and perhaps meteorite smoke provides this necessary surface. In any case, there is certainly still much to discover about smoke and the possible phenomena associated with it.

source: NASA