Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Nature paper: Burning asteroids may play ’more important climate role than previously recognized’

29.08.2005


Asteroid dust may influence weather, study finds



Dust from asteroids entering the atmosphere may influence Earth’s weather more than previously believed, researchers have found.

In a study to be published this week in the journal Nature, scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division, the University of Western Ontario, the Aerospace Corporation, and Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories found evidence that dust from an asteroid burning up as it descended through Earth’s atmosphere formed a cloud of micron-sized particles significant enough to influence local weather in Antarctica.


Micron-sized particles are big enough to reflect sunlight, cause local cooling, and play a major role in cloud formation, the Nature brief observes. Longer research papers being prepared from the same data for other journals are expected to discuss possible negative effects on the planet’s ozone layer.

"Our observations suggest that [meteors exploding] in Earth’s atmosphere could play a more important role in climate than previously recognized," the researchers write.

Scientists had formerly paid little attention to asteroid dust, assuming that the burnt matter disintegrated into nanometer-sized particles that did not affect Earth’s environment. Some researchers (and science fiction writers) were more interested in the damage that could be caused by the intact portion of a large asteroid striking Earth.

But the size of an asteroid entering Earth’s atmosphere is significantly reduced by the fireball caused by the friction of its passage. The mass turned to dust may be as much as 90 to 99 percent of the original asteroid. Where does this dust go?

The uniquely well-observed descent of a particular asteroid and its resultant dust cloud gave an unexpected answer.

On Sept. 3, 2004, the space-based infrared sensors of the U.S. Department of Defense detected an asteroid a little less than 10 meters across, at an altitude of 75 kilometers, descending off the coast of Antarctica. U.S. Department of Energy visible-light sensors built by Sandia National Laboratories, a National Nuclear Security Administration lab, also detected the intruder when it became a fireball at approximately 56 kilometers above Earth. Five infrasound stations, built to detect nuclear explosions anywhere in the world, registered acoustic waves from the speeding asteroid that were analyzed by LANL researcher Doug ReVelle. NASA’s multispectral polar orbiting sensor then picked up the debris cloud formed by the disintegrating space rock.

Some 7.5 hours after the initial observation, a cloud of anomalous material was detected in the upper stratosphere over Davis Station in Antarctica by ground-based lidar.

"We noticed something unusual in the data," says Andrew Klekociuk, a research scientist at the Australian Antarctic division. "We’d never seen anything like this before - [a cloud that] sits vertically and things blow through it. It had a wispy nature, with thin layers separated by a few kilometers. Clouds are more consistent and last longer. This one blew through in about an hour."

The cloud was too high for ordinary water-bearing clouds (32 kilometers instead of 20 km) and too warm to consist of known manmade pollutants (55 degrees warmer than the highest expected frost point of human-released solid cloud constituents). It could have been dust from a solid rocket launch, but the asteroid’s descent and the progress of its resultant cloud had been too well observed and charted; the pedigree, so to speak, of the cloud was clear.

Computer simulations agreed with sensor data that the particles’ mass, shape, and behavior identified them as meteorite constituents roughly 10 to 20 microns in size.

Says Dee Pack of Aerospace Corporation, "This asteroid deposited 1,000 metric tons in the stratosphere in a few seconds, a sizable perturbation." Every year, he says, 50 to 60 meter-sized asteroids hit Earth.

Peter Brown at the University of Western Ontario, who was initially contacted by Klekociuk, helped analyze data and did theoretical modeling. He points out that climate modelers might have to extrapolate from this one event to its larger implications. "[Asteroid dust could be modeled as] the equivalent of volcanic eruptions of dust, with atmospheric deposition from above rather than below." The new information on micron-sized particles "have much greater implications for [extraterrestrial visitors] like Tunguska," a reference to an asteroid or comet that exploded 8 km above the Stony Tunguska river in Siberia in 1908. About 2150 square kilometers were devastated, but little formal analysis was done on the atmospheric effect of the dust that must have been deposited in the atmosphere.

The Sandia sensors’ primary function is to observe nuclear explosions anywhere on Earth. Their evolution to include meteor fireball observations came when Sandia researcher Dick Spalding recognized that ground-based processing of data might be modified to record the relatively slower flashes due to asteroids and meteoroids. Sandia computer programmer Joe Chavez wrote the program that filtered out signal noise caused by variations in sunlight, satellite rotation, and changes in cloud cover to realize the additional capability. The Sandia data constituted a basis for the energy and mass estimate of the asteroid, says Spalding.

The capabilities of defense-related sensors to distinguish between the explosion of a nuclear bomb and the entry into the atmosphere of an asteroid that releases similar amounts of energy - in this case, about 13 kilotons - could provide an additional margin of world safety. Without that information, a country that experienced a high-energy asteroid burst that penetrated the atmosphere might provoke a military response by leaders who are under the false impression that a nuclear attack is underway, or lead other countries to assume a nuclear test has occurred.

Neal Singer | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.sandia.gov

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Touch Displays WAY-AX and WAY-DX by WayCon

27.06.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Drones that drive

27.06.2017 | Information Technology

Ultra-compact phase modulators based on graphene plasmons

27.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>