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Atomic-Scale Simulations of Meteor Ablation
  • Gabrielle Guttormsen,
  • Alex Fletcher,
  • Meers M. Oppenheim
Gabrielle Guttormsen
Boston University

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Alex Fletcher
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Meers M. Oppenheim
Boston University
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Meteoroids smaller than a microgram constantly bombard the Earth, depositing in the mesosphere and lower thermosphere. Meteoroid ablation, the explosive evaporation of meteoroids due to erosive impacts of atmospheric particles, consists of sputtering and sublimation. This paper presents the first atomic scale modeling of sputtering, the initial stage of ablation where hypersonic collisions between the meteoroid and atmospheric particles cause the direct ejection of atoms from the meteoroid surface. Because meteoroids gain thermal energy from these particle impacts, these interactions are important for sublimation as well. In this study, a molecular dynamics simulator calculates the energy distribution of the sputtered particles as a function of the species, velocity, and angle of the incoming atmospheric particles. The sputtering yield generally agrees with semi-empirical equations at normal incidence but disagrees with the generally accepted angular dependence. Λ, the fraction of energy from a single atmospheric particle impact incorporated into the meteoroid, was found to be less than 1 and dependent on the velocity, angle, atmospheric species, and meteoroid material. Applying this new Λ to an ablation model results in a slower meteoroid temperature increase and mass loss rate as a function of altitude. This alteration results in changes in the expected electron line densities and visual magnitudes of meteoroids. Notably, this analysis leads to the prediction that meteoroids will generally ablate 1 - 4 km lower than previously predicted. This affects analysis of radar and visual measurements, as well as determination of meteoroid mass.
Sep 2020Published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics volume 125 issue 9. 10.1029/2020JA028229