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No. 133: JAN-FEB 2001

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What's Up There?

Some Leonid meteors are not behaving the way meteors should. They begin to burn up well above 100 kilometers where the atmosphere is too thin -- essentially a good vacuum -- to cause frictional heating and consequent vaporization. We mentioned this conundrum briefly in SF#125. We now have the scientific details at hand concerning the supporting observations made during the November 1998 Leonid bombardment.

The observations were made by an international team in China. Photographic cameras were employed as well as an all-sky TV camera equipped with an image intensifier. All photographed meteors began to visibly burn up below 130 kilometers, but the TV camera consistently picked up the same meteors at higher altitudes. Both sets of cameras recorded the same final burn-up heights. The most startling observation was a meteor that the TV camera detected at roughly 200 kilometers altitude.

The highest observed Leonid meteor with initial mass of about 1 kg started radiating at an altitude of almost 200 km. The origin of meteor radiation at such high altitudes is still not well understood and more detailed observations will be needed, including near-infrared spectroscopy.


(Spumy Pavel, et al; "Atmospheric Behavior and Extreme Beginning Heights of the Thirteen Brightest Photographic Leonid Meteors...," Meteoritics and Planetary Science, 35:243, 2000. Cr. R. Spaulding)

Comment. As in SF#125, we must add that sounds are sometimes heard emanating from these anomalously high meteors, even though there is no air in which sound can he propagated.

From Science Frontiers #133, JAN-FEB 2001. 2001 William R. Corliss

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