Tracking Meteor Dust in the Stratosphere

Tracking Meteor Dust in the Stratosphere

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Meteors hit the Earth frequently. People call them shooting stars or falling stars but they are often just fragments of rock. Usually they are the size of a pebble and they burn up before getting to the ground. On February 15, of 2013 an extremely large and well-photographed meteor lit up the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia. It created a tremendous explosion and shockwave damaging buildings and injuring people. According to NASA, "The explosion released more than 30 times the energy from the atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima."

This meteor is known as a bolide or fireball, because it exploded, in the Earth's stratosphere about 15 miles above the ground. Traveling at over 41,000mph, the meteor was 19 yards across and weighed 11,000 tons. That's about the weight of 175 Abrams combat tanks.

NASA detected the plume of dust left behind by the explosion within hours with a newer environmental satellite known as Suomi NPP. The NASA scientists used a computer model to project where and how the dust would travel. They correctly matched the plume's motion around the northern hemisphere, at high latitudes, in less than 4 days.

The dust plume stayed in the stratosphere, where winter winds are easily 150mph. This type of research helps in future studies and planning for volcanic eruptions, meteor impacts, and climate change.

Some fragments of the meteor did fall to the ground.

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