Friday, August 16, 2013

Russian meteor left a dusty mess in the stratosphere

Belt of dust wrapped around the Earth, drifting slowly downward.


Thanks to the ubiquitous dashboard cameras in Russia, we were treated to a number of amazing views of the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk back on February 15. And thanks to one of the instruments aboard the Suomi NPP weather satellite launched by NASA in the fall of 2011, we can now enjoy a view of the microscopic rubble it left behind, which drifted through the stratosphere for more than three months.

That instrument is the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS), which, obviously, is designed to measure atmospheric ozone. It also monitors aerosols in the stratosphere, enabling it to detect the dust from the Chelyabinsk meteor.

When the 18-meter-wide (roughly 60 feet) meteor exploded, it was about 23 kilometers (roughly 14 miles) above the surface. The heavier bits fell to the Earth, but the dust rose to heights of up to 45 kilometers (nearly 28 miles). Although that represents a heck of a lot less material than is ejected by an erupting volcano, like the mouth-exercising Eyjafjallajökull, it still got dragged around by the circulating atmosphere. After four days, the Suomi sensors had watched that dust plume wrap all the way around the Earth.
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