Atomic-Scale Simulations of Meteor Ablation

G Guttormsen and AC Fletcher and MM Oppenheim, JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-SPACE PHYSICS, 125, e2020JA028229 (2020).

DOI: 10.1029/2020JA028229

Meteoroids smaller than a microgram constantly bombard the Earth, depositing material in the mesosphere and lower thermosphere. Meteoroid ablation, the explosive evaporation of meteoroids due to erosive impacts of atmospheric particles, consists of sputtering and thermal ablation. 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 thermal ablation 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 Lambda, 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. 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 1-4km lower than previously predicted. This affects analysis of radar and visual measurements, as well as determination of meteoroid mass.

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