As Meteorites Slice Through the Atmosphere, They’re Sculpted Into Cones

Universe Today | 8/13/2014 | Staff
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Since it first formed roughly 4.5 billion years ago, planet Earth has been subject to impacts by asteroids and plenty of meteors. These impacts have played a significant role in the geological history of our planet and even played a role in species evolution. And while meteors come in many shapes and sizes, scientists have found that many become cone-shaped once they enter our atmosphere.

The reason for this has remained a mystery for some time. But thanks to a recent study conducted by a team of researchers from New York University’s Applied Mathematics Lab have figured out the physics that leads to this transformation. In essence, the process involves melting and erosion that ultimately turns meteorities into the ideal shape as they hurl through the atmosphere.

Findings - Proceedings - National - Academy - Sciences

The findings were reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study was led by Leif Ristroph, an assistant professor in NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences (CIMS), and was assisted by Khunsa Amin and Kevin Hu (both of whom are NYU undergraduates) and Jinzi Huang – an NYU doctoral student at the time of the work.

A bright Perseid meteor over the UK on August 13, 2014. Credit and copyright: Richard Fleet.

Essence - Shapes - Meteorites - Result - Flight

In essence, the shapes of meteorites change drastically as a result of atmospheric flight. The process creates a ton of air friction, which in turn causes the surface of the meteor to melt, erode and become reshaped. While most become randomly shaped, a surprising 25 percent become “oriented meteorites” that look like perfect cones.

To be sure, there are many types of canonical meteors. Whereas some flip and tumble through the atmosphere and produce slender or narrow cones, others while the other rocks back and forth to broad cones. In between these, you have cones that fly perfectly straight through...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Universe Today
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