Why meteoroids explode before reaching Earth decoded

When a meteor comes hurtling towards Earth, the high-pressure air in front of it seeps into its pores and cracks, pushing the body of the meteor apart and causing it to explode, a study has found.

The study, published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, found that our atmosphere is a better shield from meteoroids than previously thought.

Researchers knew that meteoroids often blew up before they reach the Earths surface, but they did not know why.

Meloshs team looked to the 2013 Chelyabinsk event, when a meteoroid exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, to explain the phenomenon.

The explosion came as a surprise and brought in an energy comparable to a small nuclear weapon, researchers said.

When it entered Earths atmosphere, it created a bright fireball. Minutes later, a shock wave blasted out nearby windows, injuring hundreds of people, they said.

The meteoroid weighed around 10,000 tonnes, but only about 2,000 tonnes of debris were recovered, which meant something happened in the upper atmosphere that caused it to disintegrate.

To solve the puzzle, the researchers used a unique computer code that allows both solid materials from the meteor body and air to exist in any part of the calculation.

This new code allowed the researchers to push air into the meteoroid and let it percolate, which lowered the strength of the meteoroid significantly, even if it had been moderately strong, to begin with.
While this mechanism may protect Earths inhabitants from small meteoroids, large ones likely would not be bothered by it, Melosh said.
Iron meteoroids are much smaller and denser, and even relatively small ones tend to reach the surface.

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